- William Wilkerson, RecruitingNation
It would be difficult to blame those grief-stricken from casualty for not wanting to open their eyes to that glimmer of hope shining in their direction.
If you aren’t in their shoes, how exactly can you understand what they’re going through?
That’s why you have to marvel at someone like 2015 Texas safety commit Johnny Shaw Jr. (Center, Texas/Center), who managed to find triumph, and perhaps his calling, from tragedy when Hurricane Rita ravaged his hometown of Beaumont, Texas, in September 2005.
Would you believe that had the hurricane not come -- had it not forced his family to relocate to a town of roughly 5,000 about 140 miles north -- he might never have played football? That’s the story he tells.
“I believe that if Hurricane Rita wouldn’t have happened, I would have just been a schoolboy, just worried about my school work instead of a football player,” said Shaw, who is ranked as the No. 174 player in the ESPN Junior 300. “Growing up, my mom and dad were really hard on us about school. We had to have A's and B's.”
His parents had a "don’t pass, don’t play" rule in effect for Shaw and his siblings. Of course, for the time surrounding Rita, grades were impossible to come by since school had been canceled.
At the time, the Shaws were simply trying to survive like the rest of the region.
With Rita barreling toward them, the town was flooded with buses to evacuate residents who hadn’t made it out already. The Shaw family had no choice but to get on a one and accept their unknown destination as their home for the foreseeable future.
“I didn’t know where we were going, if we were ever going to make it back, if we were even going to survive,” Shaw said. “I didn’t know where we were going to stay, what school I was going to go to, how was I going to meet new friends.”
Not only was the Shaw family leaving behind its home, but one that was in the final stages of being remodeled after an accidental fire nearly cost it everything.
It all happened when Shaw’s little brother, Jeremiah, then 4, ran into his room, jumped on the bed and knocked into a dresser, which then hit a wall-mounted heater, according to Shaw
“The heater fell on the bed and sparked a fire,” Shaw said.
Nevertheless, the Shaw family boarded the bus headed for the unknown. They ended up in San Augustine, Texas, which is usually just a two-hour commute. With traffic so heavy, it took the family 23 hours to arrive.
Over the next few weeks the Shaws slept on the floor of a gym.
“It’s like a total loss. It’s devastating,” Shaw's father, Johhny Shaw Sr., said. “It displaced us. But still God made a way for us in the midst of the storm.”
Johnny Sr., a minister, decided it was time to help people in need. So he volunteered to help whoever needed it in San Augustine.
“The town welcomed me and said they needed someone like me,” he said. “I got involved with the people in San Augustine. I volunteered my time because I had a family and they needed me to be strong.”
He managed to speak with some other ministers in the area and was able to get his family into a temporary home. It would have to last for a while. A tree had fallen on their home back in Beaumont and returning would be difficult.
Being dealt a bad hand never seemed to slow the family, however. They made San Augustine their home for a while before moving to Center, 20 miles away.
“For me, it just really made me think that I had to get out there and try and make my life better,” the younger Shaw said. “I still think about it all the time today.”
Little did he know he’d come across football, a sport that would give him promise for the future.
Johnny Jr. had dabbled with Pop Warner football back in San Augustine. He found out he could do some things with the ball in his hand, so he played quarterback over the next few years before moving back to running back in junior high.
Coaches finally settled on safety as his position his freshman season. The rest, judging by his scholarship offers from TCU and Texas, is history.
“It was a blessing,” Johnny Jr. said of the hurricane. “If the hurricane didn’t come, I wouldn’t be where I am at today. There is a reason why I am in this situation. I am thankful. God did that for a reason to get us out of there. There are a lot of people in Beaumont. I didn’t think I’d get recognized there. But here, there is a smaller population on the football team.”
With his skill set, he would likely get noticed regardless of the size of his high school team.
TCU noticed him before any other school and offered him a scholarship. He accepted the day after. But he had always had his sights set on the Longhorns. So when that opportunity present itself, there wasn’t anyway he was going to pass it up.
“Texas was on my mind before other teams came and saw me,” he said. “I always wanted to go to Texas. But when TCU offered me it was a full ride. I could go to college. A lot of people down here in Center don’t get D-I offers. So I jumped on that opportunity. So TCU came first and surprised me. Then Texas came.”
Johnny Jr. is still thawing off from the chills he gets thinking about that June 9 afternoon when he was offered at a Texas minicamp.
“The feeling -- I couldn’t even believe it at first,” he said. “It’s been a dream to play for the Longhorns. When they offered me I was shocked. Time just stopped for me. I was shocked that it happened.”
None of this, including his commitment to Texas hours later, might have ever happened if not for Hurricane Rita altering the course of his life.