As we look back at Husker defenders from better days, we’ve tried to select players at every position. Sure the switch from 5-2 defense to a 4-3 obscures the definition of linebacker versus rush end or defensive end, but the idea is that you could piece together a tremendous unit with these past players. If you try to focus further on not just linebacker, but strongside linebacker, you could go all the way back to Jerry Murtaugh or maybe to Steve Damkroger to find guys with their names all over the record books. But instead of doing that, we focus on a guy that represents much of what has been great about the blackshirts over the years.
Brian Shaw came to Nebraska from tiny Deweese Nebraska as a walk-on in 1995. That same year, highly touted recruit Tony Ortiz arrived at NU. Both redshirted and as the years passed they found themselves competing for playing time. Neither grabbed the starting job for a whole season, but by the time he was through, Shaw had started 15 games including 8 during the 1997 national championship season and 3 in 1999 as part of lights out defensive unit that lead Nebraska to a Big 12 title, Fiesta Bowl title, and #2 ranking.
Shaw was a big-time performer in the classroom. He graduated with a perfect 4.0, was an Academic All-American, and earned post-graduate scholarships. He was also a three-time member of the Brook Berringer citizenship team. When we talk about what walk-ons have meant to the program over the years, Shaw is the quintessential example of how it can pay off. Not only did he and Ortiz push each other to be better, but he was a highly functioning member of championship defenses. He even owned some performance index records versus the hundreds of other Huskers that played before him. Other fine walk-ons have manned the strongside position since (like Scott Shanle and Steward Bradley) but none had quite the success on the field that Shaw did.
The naysayers will dismiss the resurgence of the walk-on program as lacking any value. Brian Shaw is the counterexample to that kind of thinking.