"I've just got a feeling in my soul that I have another play left on that field."
That's what's motivating Elisha Shaw, a defensive tackle from Tucker (Ga.) High School.
The 6'4", 295-pound defensive tackle was once rated as the top defensive tackle in the state of Georgia and the No. 3 defensive tackle in the nation in the class of 2014.
Then, things changed.
In August 2013 while at practice, Shaw injured his neck making a tackle. It was a scary injury for Shaw, but at the time, it wasn't something that he thought would end his career.
"After I went down, my neck was really stiff so they put me in a neck brace," Shaw said. "I thought it was the sort of thing where they'd give me some pain relievers and it would be something that healed in a week, and that'd I'd come back and be ready to go."
During a checkup shortly after the injury, doctors discovered that Shaw had injured plates in his neck. He confirmed the specifics of his injury that were reported in February by Alabama student-run newspaper The Crimson White. He strained ligaments in his C1 vertebrae, bulging discs in C3 and C4 and an improper curve in his neck, according to The Crimson White. His doctors advised against him continuing his football career.
"The doctor came into the room and said, 'I'm sorry, son, but you will not be able to play football anymore,'" Shaw said. "That's when it happened. That's when everything changed."
It changed in a hurry.
Shaw sat out his senior season, recovering from injury. His star value sank, the offers dried up and his options after high school dwindled.
"It never sunk in because, you know, something you work so hard for, you won't let it get by you that fast," Shaw said. "You won't just let it go."
One school didn't let him go.
According to ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough, Shaw "signed" with Alabama on national signing day in a ceremony with his teammates at Tucker High School. It wasn't the signing day ceremony he had in mind. Instead of signing a national letter of intent, Shaw agreed to a scholarship at Alabama under a medical exemption as part of an agreement with the staff.
He said: "That meant the world to me because my loyalty to Alabama was real. Alabama was my very first offer. I had no rankings, all I had was a day at their camp. They had faith in me through everything, and when this obstacle came up, they were there. I really appreciated that. I needed that in my life, because it was really hard. It was like a part of me had died. In life, you get stuff like that. The goal is to never stay down."
Shaw will arrive in Tuscaloosa this August, and he hopes that his "career-ending injury" doesn't end his career after all. He has stayed in game shape throughout his injury, checking in at the same weight he was when his career was cut short.
"My only doctor is the man above," Shaw said. "I train everyday like I have a game next week. I'm still grindin' and still chasing that dream. When I get to 'Bama, I'm going to try my best to get back on the field. Whatever it takes. I'm going to talk to the doctors and see what I can do."
If Alabama's doctors clear him, how risky would it be for Shaw to resume his career following his "career-ending" injury?
"This is a very tough injury and one that is going to give varied opinions from doctors," said Will Carroll, sports injuries lead writer for B/R. "Obviously, his doctors at Tucker were a bit worried. It's a serious injury, but if Alabama's doctors (some of the best in the world) clear him to play, they'll also be monitoring him closely. Certainly this is something that could cause problems in his cervical spine down the road. Although it elevates the risk, it does not put him in imminent danger."
He'll be on a medical exemption scholarship when he arrives, which doesn't make it impossible for him to see the field at Alabama. But in order for him to play for the Crimson Tide, it would take some work behind the scenes.
John Infante of the Bylaw Blog confirmed that players on medical non-counter scholarships can come off and play at the same school, but that scholarship would be counted back every year in which he received aid. That could create a violation if it puts the school over the 85-player limit in any of the years in which a player received the scholarship.
"His best bet would be for Alabama to have an open scholarship this year and he essentially would not yet be on a medical scholarship," Infante said. "Otherwise, Alabama would either need to take the violation (which normally carries a two-for-one penalty so they would lose two scholarships at some point down the road) or try to argue for a waiver, probably on the basis that their doctors did not have adequate time to evaluate Shaw’s injury. Or, he transfers and tries to play somewhere else."
Shaw recognizes that playing again after such a devastating injury is a long shot, and even if it doesn't work out for him on the field, he still intends to pursue a career roaming the sidelines.
"I want to know my options," he said. "If the doctors tell me that they really think I shouldn't play, I'm going to continue to train with the team and push toward coaching."
He has options because Alabama believed in him, and that's not something that he takes for granted.
"They could have just thrown me away and moved on to the next," he said. "They stuck by their word."
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com and all college statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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