You might as well start with the food.
Tevin Shaw recommends the grease trucks, the Rutgers University staples that take up space on College Avenue in New Brunswick, N.J. You should probably start with the “fat sandwiches,” Shaw said. There’s this one with gyro meat and mozzarella sticks, all piled onto the sandwich. There’s this other one called the Fat Darrell — chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and an assortment of other artery-clogging goodness. But really, Shaw says, you can’t go wrong.
“Right off campus,” said Shaw, a junior nickel back at Kansas.
Shaw came of age just 25 minutes north of those food trucks, in a township in North Jersey. By high school, he had landed a few miles away at Piscataway High School, starring for the vaunted Chiefs, a New Jersey state football powerhouse that has regularly produced NFL players. On Saturday, Shaw will return to his roots, taking the field at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J., as Kansas finishes its nonconference slate with a road game at Rutgers.
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For Shaw, a second-year starter, his career will come full circle. In high school, he played in two state playoff games on Rutgers’ home field. On Saturday, his parents — Stephen and Darlene — will lead an army of 30 or so family members and close friends onto the premises.
“I’ve been quietly awaiting this since I knew we’d be playing there,” Shaw said.
The homecoming moment almost didn’t happen — at least not like this. Four years ago, as Shaw finished a decorated high school career in Piscataway, he was set to sign with Iowa. A two-way high school star, Shaw had eviscerated opponents as both a running back and defensive back. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards as a senior. He racked up stops on defense. And in the winters, he set a school record with 120 victories on the wrestling mat.
At that point, Shaw had attracted some recruiting interest from schools such as Penn State and Maryland. But he liked the idea of getting as far away from New Jersey as possible. He had spent his childhood going to Rutgers games, he says, but he never really thought of the Scarlet Knights as his team. Iowa, Shaw says, seemed like a good spot.
“I really wanted to get away from home at that point in my life,” Shaw said.
Then came confusion. In the days before national signing day in early 2012, Iowa rescinded its scholarship offer; there was no room for Shaw. That left Shaw’s camp scrambling to find a place to play. He says Rutgers showed some interest at that point, but he still desired a different path. He had spent enough years in New Jersey. Soon enough, he got a call from Kansas, which had recently hired a new coach. Charlie Weis, a New Jersey native himself, had room on the roster and was desperate for talent. Kansas would be the place.
Now in his fourth year, things have worked out to a certain degree. The staff that recruited Shaw — and so many of his teammates — is now gone. But after seeing limited time during his first two years, Shaw has found a home as a physical nickel back — a versatile defender whose skills are well-suited for football in the Big 12. In two games this season, Shaw has racked up seven tackles and one quarterback hurry.
“He’s developed a wide range of abilities,” KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. “He’s a thicker kid. He’s got some strength, so he’s a versatile guy. He can hold up in the run-game, but he also has enough athleticism that in the pass game, he can move and cover some ground and actually has some decent cover skills.”
Bowen calls Shaw one of his “veteran” guys now, which is a compliment. And it could be a critical role as the Jayhawks venture out onto the road for the first time. Kansas hasn’t won a road game since Sept. 12, 2009 — nearly three years before Shaw even arrived on campus — and the Jayhawks would like to kill the streak in Piscataway. If that comes in front of his family and old high school friends, well, all the more perfect for Shaw.
“Parents, grandparents, all my family,” Shaw said, “I’m just looking forward to playing back at home.”