Bryson Shaw is one of the best high school lacrosse players in the country. He ranks in the top 10 in virtually every publication that provides such ratings. He was such a sought-after prospect that he committed to Maryland as a freshman. Little doubt existed that he would become an elite college midfielder.
But those close to Shaw recognize that he always has been someone who thrived on challenging himself. That is why Shaw isn’t afraid to give up one dream in pursuit of another. It is why, on Saturday during a campus visit to Wisconsin, he committed to play football as a safety for the Badgers and forgo the opportunity to continue his lacrosse career at the next level.
“Football is my dream since I can remember,” Shaw told Land of 10. “I just always wanted to play big-time college football and hopefully get a shot at the pros. Lacrosse came a little earlier than the football recruiting did, so I had to take my opportunities there. Lacrosse has been a big part of me, and it’s going to be hard to say goodbye. But I know I’m making the right decision. I don’t doubt it.”
— Bryson shaw (@bshaw272727) January 28, 2018
Shaw, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound junior from Bullis School in Potomac, Md., spent so much time focusing on lacrosse that his football career was only beginning to take flight. But he did already have football scholarship offers from Wisconsin, Maryland, Rutgers, Duke, Syracuse, Virginia, Wake Forest and West Virginia, with several more on the way.
So what happens when he grows singularly focused on the sport? If the development Shaw has demonstrated the last two seasons is any indication, he has a chance to be a star.
Bullis football coach Pat Cilento said Shaw transferred to the school as a sophomore and began at quarterback. He wasn’t a great thrower but could outrun anybody on the field. Coaches moved Shaw to safety, where he made plays in coverage with his speed and instincts and used his physicality to tackle near the line of scrimmage when he played up in the box. Cilento then decided the team might as well use one of its best weapons on offense.
According to the Carroll County (Md.) Times, Shaw finished his junior season with 27 catches for 474 yards and 5 touchdowns. He carried 39 times for 213 yards and 3 touchdowns. He scored touchdowns in five different ways during his team’s first four games: kickoff return, punt return, touchdown catch, touchdown run and fumble return. Shaw also intercepted 3 passes and returned two of them for touchdowns.
Cilento noted that Shaw scored 2 touchdowns in the first 36 seconds of the team’s season opener on a kickoff return and a fumble recovery. Speed and elusiveness are the first two characteristics Cilento uses when discussing Shaw.
“But what sticks out in my mind is how competitive he is,” Cilento said. “We’ve had a lot of great players come through our school. I think we have nine in the Big Ten if you include him. But he is probably the most competitive one in the bunch. He just wants to compete and won’t be outdone.”
Bryson Shaw’s junior season highlights
That competiveness is deeply ingrained within Shaw, who hates to lose at anything, from mini golf to a Monopoly game on a Friday night with his sister and parents. When the lacrosse website Recruiting Rundown ranked Shaw as a 5-star prospect and the No. 8 player in the 2019 class, it described him this way: “If you’re on Shaw’s team, you probably love him. If you’re playing against him, you’re probably frustrated by his compete level and playmaking ability.”
Cilento noted that any time his team faced a fourth down on offense, Shaw wanted the ball. He is constantly pacing the sideline ready to go back on the field, even when a second-team player takes his spot for practice reps. Shaw said that one Syracuse assistant coach came to watch him practice and compared him to Darth Maul from Star Wars.
“I said, ‘Well why is that, coach?'” Shaw recalled. “He said, ‘Because in between drills, you’re always pacing back and forth and you’re always fired up and ready to go.’ I was pretty surprised when he compared me to Darth Maul. I thought he was going to compare me to a football player, but I’ll take Darth Maul.”
When Shaw committed to Wisconsin on Saturday, his parents playfully warned coaches, including defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, that the Badgers had better not lose because Shaw might be difficult to console.
“Coach Leonhard said, ‘I’d rather deal with that than somebody that likes losing,’ ” Shaw said.
Leonhard played a significant role in Shaw’s decision to commit to Wisconsin. Shaw said Leonhard’s 10 years as an NFL safety and ability to develop him as a player were important. Shaw’s father, Bryn, said Leonhard was one of their favorite players when he was a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008.
“We thought Ed Reed would never come up and make a tackle,” Bryn said. “We knew Jim Leonhard would. We liked that he was the underdog because he was always referred to as a small player. So we were really rooting for him.
“Jim Leonhard was a big deal to Bryson and I. Bryson had met him because he came to Bullis and talked to Bryson. I had never met him, but I was looking forward to meeting him. Once we met him, it felt like we knew him forever. I felt like telling Jim, ‘Hey, look, we’ll leave Bryson here and you can come home with us.’ It went really smooth.”
Bryson had never been to Madison before his three-day visit with parents over the weekend. But he fell in love with the campus and the culture, noting, “everything just blew me away.” He heard positive reviews about the school whenever Wisconsin safety Patrick Johnson, a former Bullis football standout, returned home to work out with the high school team. Shaw already had developed strong connections with the Badgers coaching staff, and the visit only reaffirmed why he felt Wisconsin was a good fit.
“Some of the other schools I went to, you could tell they thought they were the greatest and the best,” Bryson said. “They thought that nobody was better than them, like Penn State, Notre Dame, Ohio State. I kind of got that feeling. And when I went to Wisconsin this weekend, they were really down-to-earth people. The coaching staff, they were all very humble. They wanted to make sure I picked the best fit for me. You could tell they really cared about the person.”
Bryn said four schools were pursuing his son as both a football and a lacrosse player: Ohio State, Notre Dame, Virginia and Syracuse. North Carolina also had discussed the possibility with Bryson. Bryn said that, perhaps, the idea of playing at a school that didn’t have lacrosse would ease some pressure on Bryson.
“Bryson was the fastest kid in lacrosse,” Bryn said. “He’s just so much faster than everybody else that he sticks out. If the school had lacrosse, they were going to try to find a way for him to play lacrosse.
“Maybe in the back of his mind, he said, ‘Wisconsin is the perfect place for me. I won’t get pressured to play lacrosse.’ He’s always said he wanted to focus on football. He didn’t want to miss spring football because that might jeopardize his position, and he wanted to get there and compete.”
Although lacrosse may have held Shaw back initially in terms of football recruiting, Shaw insists it has actually made him a better player. He said the skills he learned while covering midfielders in lacrosse would serve him well as a defensive back at Wisconsin.
Shaw, whom the 247Sports composite rates as a 3-star player and the No. 73 safety in the country, has only begun to scratch the surface of his football talent. He would have received more scholarship opportunities had he not committed to Wisconsin. Shaw said that before he committed he was planning to set up another visit with Ohio State because new Buckeyes defensive coordinator Alex Grinch had been recruiting him hard.
“When I committed to Wisconsin, he said, ‘I’ve been at Ohio State two weeks and I’ve been to your school both of those weeks. I think I deserved a chance,’ ” Shaw said. “I let him know that Wisconsin was the place for me and I’m sorry it didn’t work out. But Madison is the place I want to be.”