Former Tennessee offensive lineman Jarrod Shaw loves football.
Loves it enough to sit out his entire first season because he wasn’t ready to see the field.
Loves it enough to stick through three head coaches in three seasons, the first two of whom didn’t exactly provide him with significant playing time.
Loves it enough that, when finally given the chance to start every game in his senior season, he was just fine with rotating to whatever spot he was needed whenever one of his line-mates went down with an injury.
He just doesn’t love it enough to consider it his end-all, be-all.
In just a few weeks, when he wraps up his fifth and final year at UT, Shaw will walk away with two degrees: a bachelor’s in sports management and a freshly earned master’s degree in agriculture, leadership, education and communication — a rare feat for an SEC player who came to school with NFL aspirations.
“Football is always going to be my first love, and as long as the opportunity is there I’m going to take advantage of it,” Shaw said. “It’s not my only way out. I’m not going to stress over it if I don’t have an opportunity to play football.”
Shaw isn’t considered one of the nation’s top offensive guards and he isn’t projected by many scouting services to hear his name called during this week’s NFL draft. But he’s a big body and he started 16 games with the Vols, benchmarks that typically have been plenty enough justification for NFL teams to take a chance with a late-round pick.
That’s why Shaw, while balancing two online classes and another “creative component” class that helped him draft his thesis, spent a few months earlier this year training with Chip Smith of Competitive Edge Sports in Atlanta. Shaw still is big and hovers near 330 pounds, but he’s noticeably svelter, as the focus of his offseason workouts centered on speed and conditioning.
Those few months helped Shaw put up solid numbers at UT’s Pro Day in March. His previous five years, though, are why he’s in such a “win-win” position career-wise.
“I always knew I wanted to get a master’s degree,” Shaw said. “I promised my mom that when I was 8 years old. That was always in the back of my mind.
“I had the opportunity and I had to take it.”
The son of a teacher growing up in Lafayette, La., Shaw never has been anything close to an academic risk. He boasted a high school grade-point average near 4.0 and picked up his bachelor’s degree in sports management right after he wrapped up his junior season, his fourth year at UT.
And then he stumbled into the world of agriculture, leadership, education and communication, a field he got acquainted with through a few of his elective courses. Shaw confessed that former Vol Cody Pope also had a hand in influencing his decision.
“He’s interested in that type of stuff,” Shaw said.
Bryan Patterson, an assistant professor who oversees the program planning and supervision of agricultural leadership majors and served as one of Shaw’s top advisers, saw a correlation between the leadership Shaw provided on the field, especially during a senior season when he was surrounded by freshmen, and what he could hone in the classroom as a graduate student. That helped influence the focus of Shaw’s recently penned thesis: “Starting Your Non-Profit: Evaluating Organizational and Leadership Capacity.”
It still requires a few edits and adjustments, Patterson said, but it’s as thick as Shaw’s playbook, clocking in at an even 100 pages.
Through writing the paper, which took months, Shaw said he fell more and more in love with the idea of starting up a nonprofit organization, one that helps troubled college athletes who are forced to leave school and are left with partial credits toward a degree. It also would help high school juniors and seniors acquire the necessary “life skills” for balancing sports and academics, Shaw said.
“Now,” Shaw said, “I have the resources to do so.”
Since Shaw enrolled in graduate school, Patterson has met with him frequently to discuss not just his current classwork, but his future. The conversation that football players loathe most — the one that focuses on what they’ll do when football is over — has been a constant fixture, but Shaw has yet to bristle at it.
“I think he’s at the point where I think he can be OK with that, utilizing all of his skill sets to his advantage,” Patterson said.
“He really had to earn it.”
Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble