Story by David Weaver/MISD Director of Communications
MARSHALL, Texas – A simple Internet search of “Terrance Shaw” turns up what most folks know about the 1991 graduate of Marshall High School.
Football standout at Stephen F. Austin State University. First-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers. Member of five different NFL teams, including the Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, and Oakland Raiders. You can even find out that yes, Terrance Shaw won a Super Bowl ring as a member of the New England Patriots in 2001, the first Super Bowl win in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady-led Patriots dynasty.
But what very few know about Terrance Shaw is the road it took to get to that Super Bowl in New Orleans. Or to the NFL draft. Or to SFA, for that matter. Most sports junkies can tell you the story of how Michael Jordan got cut from his junior high team, but those same sports junkies can’t tell you that Terrance Shaw, Super Bowl champion, had decided to quit football as a sophomore at Marshall High School in 1988.
If it weren’t for a couple of assistant coaches who cared deeply both for the Mavericks overall and for Terrance himself, Shaw will readily admit that he wouldn’t be where he is today. For a kid who left high school weighing just 158 pounds following a state championship season in 1990 with the Mavs, Terrance can trace it all back to that day on the practice field when he reached a true crossroads in his life.
Seeing Something Special
Shaw returned to his hometown this past Friday night as the Mavs unveiled a commemorative sign outside Maverick Stadium, marking its identity as the home of a Super Bowl champion. On the opposite end of the wall on the east end of the stadium, a similar sign honors NFL Hall of Famer and Marshall native Y.A. Tittle.
Out of all the great players who have worn the red and white over the years, only a relative handful have ever gone on to play professionally. Only one – still known around Marshall as “T-Shaw” – reached the pinnacle of football.
“My advice to young players is to just keep your head down and keep grinding,” says Shaw, who makes his home in DeSoto, Texas now with his wife and seven children. “I always look back and remind everybody that I was a ‘B’ team player in the seventh and eighth grade. We had a great running back ahead of me in D.D. Turner and I was way down on the depth chart. I was always quick and fast, but I was small. I just kept working on my game, and working some more to elevate my game. It’s a constant grind but now of course it was all worth it.”
The huge, shiny Super Bowl ring he owns now is a constant reminder for Shaw of the benefits of the grind. He knows all too well the meaning of “so hard to be a Maverick,” from his days as a young man growing up in Marshall.
Terrance was raised in Marshall by his grandmother, Margaret Shaw. His grandfather had died when Terrance was in elementary school, so it was just him and his grandma.
In junior high, Shaw was a running back buried deep on the depth chart. He spent his two seasons as a MJHS Dogie playing on the “B” team. As a sophomore at Marshall High School in 1988, Shaw was still just a face in the crowd, a scout-team type player destined to spend the season on the junior varsity while the Mavs were on their way to the first of three straight district championships and deep playoff runs. That 1988 team was led by Odell Beckham and Shaw’s own classmate, D.D. Turner. Only the most rabid of Maverick fans even knew Terrance Shaw existed on the roster.
Shaw believed in his own ability, but the numbers game wasn’t in his favor. After years of fighting the battle to get out of a position pit with no progress, Terrance had reached what he thought was the end for him before he even got started.
“I remember one day I’d had enough of it all, and I said that’s it, man, I quit,” he said. “Two coaches on the staff – Coach Sid (Harper) and Coach Bill (Harper) – came up to me and put their arms around me and said they believed in me. They would take me on defense, just don’t quit. As it turned out, that made all the difference in the world for me.”
Those two coaches – Bill Harper, who was then the Mavs’ defensive coordinator and who would go on to become the winningest head coach in Marshall football history following the 1990 season; and Sid Harper, a position coach who spent several years with the Mavs and is the father of current Marshall head coach, Clint Harper – are still referred to as “my two dads” by Terrance Shaw.
“I credit them with everything,” he said. “Without them, there wouldn’t have been me where I am today because I would’ve been just another kid. I still want to model myself after Coach Sid and Coach Bill…those guys loved us. That night coming home (in 1990, after the state championship game in Houston), on that icy road, everybody was scared but Coach Sid and Coach Bill had rode back with us and they were like a blanket, man.”
Terrance can still get emotional talking about Margaret, who passed away in 2001, but he admits it was going to be difficult for a 58-year-old grandmother to handle a 16-year-old teenage boy – which is why he is so appreciative of the guidance provided by his coaches.
“To be successful you have to be willing to do the things that aren’t easy,” he said. “You have to want to have a better situation. First of all, I never played for myself. When I went to college, I was planning to go to school and put my grandmother in a better situation. We were on government assistance until I was a senior. Every game I was going to play for her, that was my motivation.”
Sid Harper and Bill Harper had a hand in keeping Terrance in the program as a sophomore, but he never played a down of varsity football until the third week of the season in 1989, his junior year. Refreshed at his new position of cornerback, Shaw paid his dues as a member of the Mavs’ junior varsity up until that third week of the season.
When the call finally came to help the varsity, Shaw didn’t waste any time. His first game, against Kilgore, he got his first career interception. That led to a quick rise to prominence on a Maverick team that reached the mountaintop in 1990, as Marshall defeated Converse Judson 21-19 in the Astrodome to bring home the 1990 Big 5A state title.
In that game, Shaw made a game-turning interception in the end zone that helped save the Mavs’ eventual two-point win. So the former depth-chart casualty at running back who almost quit as a sophomore book-ended his high school career with an interception in his first varsity game, and the biggest one of his life to that point in his final game as a Mav.
And again, something most folks don’t realize who were part of the thousands of Marshall and East Texas fans to attend that historic game in December 1990 is that Shaw basically played that day on one leg.
“I had gotten hurt a couple days before the game, banging knees with somebody,” he recalls. “I probably had a partial tear of my knee then, but man I was not going to miss that game. It was a rough game, (Converse Judson) played us hard all the way to the end. I made that pick and probably should have scored, but I was hurting and got about as far as I could on that leg.”
Shaw went on to receive a football scholarship to SFA, where he suffered a torn ACL as a sophomore. He entered college weighing less than 160 pounds, but by the time he reached his senior year, he had bulked up to about 205 and was clocked at a 4.2 40-yard dash. That kind of physical, athletic, fast cornerback is an NFL prospect, and Shaw found himself on many NFL draft boards in the spring of 1995.
“I just kept two ladies on my mind – my grandmother, and my ‘Mav mom,’ Pat Berry,” he recalls of his days at SFA. “They missed one game of my college career, and that was because Grandma was sick. I promised them I was always going to play for them. I worked hard and I didn’t want to let them down. I wasn’t worried about anybody else, just those two wonderful ladies.”
He also spoke of the ’95 Draft Night when he was sitting at home and the only representative from an NFL team that was with him was a member of the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys had indicated they were interested in Shaw, but the Chargers – who had made their first Super Bowl appearance the prior season — made a trade to move up at the start of the second round and grabbed Shaw 34th overall, making him their top draft pick that season. At that point, Shaw says the Cowboys representative left.
“I really think all he was there for was to keep them (Cowboys) informed about who was calling me,” he said, chuckling. “I don’t know how serious they were about actually drafting me, especially anywhere high in the draft, but they were the only team that sent a rep to my house that night.”
Shaw played five seasons with San Diego before signing a free agent contract with the Dolphins. He then spent the 2001 season with the Patriots – earning his Super Bowl ring – before signing with the Raiders and going to his second straight Super Bowl in 2002. After two seasons in Oakland, Shaw finished his 10-year NFL career with a final season as a member of the Vikings, in 2004.
One of his biggest regrets is the fact that two of his biggest fans – his grandmother and his mother – never got to see him play and win a Super Bowl. His mother, who had undergone a heart transplant in 1985, passed away in July of 2001. His grandmother, Margaret, passed away about a month later.
“That…was a tough year,” Shaw admits. “A rough season.”
Following his retirement, Shaw satisfied his love for football by coaching Little League football. He developed a passion for teaching the game and working with youth, traits that have led to him now being in charge of his own youth football organization in DeSoto, “The Soaring Eagles.”
“I want kids to be taught fundamentals,” he said. “We teach fundamentals. You can do that without much contact at a young age and get kids ready to play when it is time. This is our first year and we had over 200 kids come out, so football is big in DeSoto. I’m expecting that number to double next year.”
So continues the story of that little kid from Marshall, Texas – the one who was fast but too small, the one who had some talent but not enough, the one who was going to watch along with everyone else as others went on to the big time. That little kid was Terrance Shaw, who now stands as one of the most recognizable Marshall Mavericks in history.
“My motto to anyone is always to just keep grinding, no matter what,” he said. “I was a Mav here and we had some great times, but you got to keep going. Keep grinding, keep your head down and keep your nose clean, and you can make it. I believe it. I lived it.”