Moving from one project to another, “some good, some bad” according to his mother Tina White, five-star defensive lineman Travis Shaw’s life could’ve went a couple other different ways.
“Oh man listen, Travis is from the rough side of town in Greensboro,” Ajay Sauls said. “You only have so many choices. You can play sports, sell drugs or do some crime.”
Shaw obviously gravitated towards sports, ultimately blossoming into one of the more coveted football prospects in the country. Looking strongly at scholarships from Clemson, Georgia, North Carolina or North Carolina A&T, if it weren’t for guys like Sauls taking interest in the now 6-foot-5, 310-pound Shaw, there’s a chance Dabo Swinney, Kirby Smart and Mack Brown would have never heard of the Grimsley High standout.
Sauls is a single father of boys which got him into coaching football and seven years ago by good fortune Shaw ended up on his roster. They were the Warnersville Wolverines. all decked out in the Maize and Blue colors. It took just one practice and Sauls noticed right away the talent oozing out of Shaw, but unfortunately at the same time he also saw it was going to be a struggle for the nine-year old to make the 150-pound weight limit to be eligible to take the field in games.
But Shaw wanted to play so bad. With that his mother was going to do anything to help him make the weight. Sauls was the guy with the plan to make it work.
From extra runs, to a strict low-carb diet (picture a kid eating a lot of salad) to purchasing lighter pads to wear while stepping on the scale, Sauls set everything up and White made sure Shaw had the discipline to comply.
Unfortunately the best-laid plan didn’t always work and there were times Shaw would be a couple pounds over on game day.
“Some tears would come out,” Sauls said. “But once the team started strapping it up and getting ready for war, Travis would be right there as a coach cheering them on and letting them know what might be coming and motivating them in all types of ways Travis could.
“I said Travis there’s going to be a time where there aren’t going to be any rules when it comes to weight and then everybody in the world is going to want a piece of you.”
Sauls was spot on.
Now double the size, we’re looking at the No. 1 prospect in the state and No. 9 prospect nationally per the 247Sports Composite. Most of the time though, Shaw did make weight for those youth games.
“He really let the other team feel it,” Sauls laughed. “A very talented kid. I played him right in the middle. Whatever was going on, left, right, sideline to sideline, he caused havoc wherever I put him. I played him all over, offense, I didn’t put him in at cornerback but I’m pretty sure he could’ve played it too. He was my rover dog, played everywhere on the field.
“I used to tell him, ok son, you get this many tackles you can get something special,” White added. “If he did well, a certain amount of tackles, a certain amount of runs he could get a steak or a ice cream at McDonalds.”
Plenty of those salads and those occasional treats mixed in between, Shaw and the Wolverines advanced to three championships games in three seasons. He missed out on pizza parties in trying to make weight, but the foundation and more importantly the determination was set for Shaw to become the blue-chipper he is now.
“It wasn’t just me, other coaches invested time,” Sauls said. “Travis is a hard worker. A great soul. A son, a nephew I wish I had, wish I would’ve had one more.”
“Travis has always been different,” his mother stated. “Travis has always been his own person. Travis has always been a leader in my eyes. He’s always been the man of the house. That’s what initiated him to be his own person.”
Shaw has an older sister that’s 20 and a younger brother that’s 11 and a god brother that is close to turning four. He’s an uncle too. Those younger boys he loves playing with. Of course he’s helping his brother be a better football player than him some day. He takes the kids swimming, they go to the park, and the youngest one he loves getting to laugh.
Shaw wants to keep a smile on his loved-ones faces forever. Playing football for the Wolverines brought him joy. While playing still makes him happy, it’s a business now too. The game can possibly open up so many doors for his family down the road.
“He wants to get his mom out of the struggle and just help his family out,” Sauls said. “He’s not for the fame, not the glory, his mom is what really motivates that young man to get on the right.”
“I appreciate everyone that came together and helped us,” White said. “It’s been a long journey.”
White and Shaw are having a lot of fun during this part of the journey. They’ve taken recent trips to North Carolina and Clemson, they were at Georgia this past weekend for an official visit and return to Chapel Hill for an official this weekend. College coaches are spending time with Shaw and loving him even more.
“Travis is a really fun kid,” White said. “What you see is what you get. He’s very humble, he’s very funny, he loves kids under him, even older kids still look up to him. He’s still a big teddy bear.”
He’s no teddy bear on the field. Shaw has helped Grimsley become a state power going 7-6 his freshman year to 12-2 as a sophomore and 10-0 this past season. He had a whopping 28 tackles for loss in 10 games. A dominant force at the point of attack he has 57 stops in the backfield and 17 sacks heading into his senior year.
“He just plays so hard,” Grimsley head coach Darryl Brown said. “He has a motor. He just never stops. Obviously he’s physical and bigger than most guys and that type of stuff, but he just plays really hard. That more than anything is a credit to the type of leader he’s become. When you’re best player is playing harder than everybody else it makes them want to play harder too. He understands how he can influence guys in a positive way and make them better. He understands that he carries a special kind of weight for our program and he enjoys working with his teammates and gives them a lot of credit and he makes those guys better.”
The first time Brown laid eyes on Shaw, he was a 6-foot-4, 290-pound point guard on the eighth grade basketball team. He saw the same ability Sauls did. For him it was his job to take the Under Armour All-American to the level he is now.
“He’s ready, he’s set,” White said. “He’s taken enough life to be able to be able to get out there and stand on his own and take care of himself.”