June 17, 2011

Maize N' View: Shaw fights toughness stigma

Quick question: which former running back do you think of when you look at senior tailback Michael Shaw? For most, the answer is Carlos Brown, but not because they are both speed backs capable of hitting the home run. No, because they're oft-injured, leaving potential unfulfilled ...

Injuries. How many great players never were because of injuries? Wide receiver Antonio Bass immediately comes to mind. The four-star athlete out of Jackson, Mich., made quite an impression as a freshman in 2005 but a devastating knee injury during his first spring cost him his athletic career.

In the case of Bass, and others that have suffered career-ending injuries, the reaction is typically the same: great disappointment, sympathy. Shaw isn't afforded equal treatment. Instead of empathy, he faces criticism that he isn't tough enough - an insult in sports akin to calling a journalist 'yellow' or a doctor a 'quack.'

Brown, who missed 15 games his final three seasons, has been there.

"The thing a lot of people still say to me is, 'You were really good when you were healthy,'" said Brown, who rushed for 1,025 yards in 30 games from 2006-09.

"It's hard to hear because it's almost like they act like I had a choice in the matter. If only I was tougher I would have played more and been more productive or something like that, but no player goes looking for injuries. I worked hard in the training room to get back and to do the injury-prevention stuff, but when you play running back you take a beating."

Shaw's ailments read like this: a strained groin in 2008; a hernia that spring, which required surgery; recovery from the hernia and an MCL sprain in 2009; another MCL sprain and a concussion in 2010. Shaw has missed seven games in three seasons with legitimate injuries, yet he's heard the same criticisms that dogged Brown for four years.

"I hear that stuff but I don't listen to that stuff because it's coming from outside the program," Shaw said. "My teammates don't question my toughness. My coaches don't question my toughness. The other running backs on the team ... they understand what it's like, the pounding we take in the Big Ten. Everybody gets banged up.

"All I can do is continue to think about how I can help my team play better, and if I'm on the field, producing at my highest capability.

"I can't really control what everybody says or what the opinions are. My job is to work in the weight room and do what Coach [Fred] Jackson asks of me and then whatever decision the coaches make on who will start, they make. But I'm going to give everything I have this year every chance I get."

Shaw should be in the preseason conversation, a favorite to start at tailback, but instead the focus has been on running back teammates Michael Cox and Stephen Hopkins, and even incoming freshman Thomas Rawls. That doesn't bother Shaw, though he's a bit surprised he isn't considered a frontrunner.

"The coaches have made it known it's an open job and everyone truly wants that job.

"I welcome that competition and all of the backs welcome it. Everybody will get a chance to show what he can do and you're going to have to prove you can be a 20-25-carry guy week after week and then be productive in that first game on Sept. 3."

Until proven otherwise, Shaw will be talked about as a back with great physical skills and 1,000-yard potential but no one seemingly believes he can do it because no thinks he can survive a season unscathed. Brown fought the same perceptions and went into his senior year determined to prove everyone wrong, but then missed two more games due to injury, only adding more fuel to the fire.

"I have nothing to be ashamed about," Brown said. "I gave everything my body could give. I never sat out a game if I could go and I know Mike's the same way. He wants to play, not to prove people wrong but because he knows what he's capable of if he gets 20 carries a game.

"I hope his body holds up. He deserves to show what he can do over a full season."

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