Kevin Gorman: Alle-Kiski sports lore evidence of inspiration Brian Shaw embodied
Brian Shaw is remembered in Western Pennsylvania football lore for his booming kickoffs, a leg as long as his smile was wide.
And those who knew Shaw said he was always smiling, an infectious trait that made him a memorable teammate.
Before he became a New Kensington police officer, an Alle-Kiski Valley hero shot and killed Friday night in the line of duty, Shaw was a standout three-sport athlete at Burrell High School who became a kickoff specialist at Slippery Rock University.
And his kickoffs were majestic, a spectacle to see. No surprise that most of them went for touchbacks.
"He was the best kicker we've ever had," said Tom Henderson, the former Burrell football coach whose son, Tyler, was Shaw's teammate at Slippery Rock. "He got to the point where he was almost automatic kicking it into the end zone, if not out of the end zone."
Seth Napierkowski was Burrell's quarterback as a senior in 2007, when their soccer star became their kicker, and recalls Shaw's immediate impact. The Bucs were playing against No. 3 Seton LaSalle at Honus Wagner Field in Carnegie, and Shaw converted an extra point and two field goals, of 32 and 38 yards, to seal a 13-9 upset victory.
"It was crazy. He put the ball on an extra point so far over the building behind the goal posts that he dented a car," said Napierkowski, now the football coach at Springdale High School. "Without him, we definitely would not have won the game."
Shaw, a 2010 Burrell graduate, didn't just accumulate nine letters in three sports. He was a three-time MVP in track and field, a state qualifier in the 200-meter dash and the 1,600-meter relay, an all-section selection in soccer and an all-conference pick as both a placekicker and punter in football — a sport he'd never played before high school.
"He was an athlete. He showed his passion for everything he did," said Jon Bouchat of Harrison, a kicking coach who considered Shaw a son. "Whether it was soccer, track or football or becoming a police officer, he did it to his fullest."
No wonder friends and former teammates all were inspired by Shaw and his smile, the sign of his infectious personality. They recalled him as unfailingly polite, but also with a wicked sense of humor and the perfect timing for when to make a wisecrack.
"I think the best way to describe him was a happy, happy person," said C.J. Bahr, the former Slippery Rock kicker who was Shaw's roommate on road trips. "I'd come off the field after missing a kick, and he'd come up and make a joke to help take your mind off it."
That silly side to Shaw was reflected on his uniform. He wore No. 99 before it was fashionable for a kicker, and played his position with a reckless abandon reflective of his renegade number.
"That matches his personality, if that makes sense," Bahr said. "That was the perfect number for Brian. You saw No. 99 and thought of Brian Shaw. He was not your typical kicker. He definitely liked to mix it up in practice, to stick his nose in there when he could. He wasn't a typical kicker from the standpoint of kick it and make as little contact as possible. He would kick it and try to be the first one down there."
Henderson laughs in recalling his trying to teach Shaw how to tackle at Burrell, just in case a kick was returned, and later watching Shaw jump onto a player's back to bring him down. Shaw would refine his tackling technique at Slippery Rock, which drew the attention of coach Shawn Lutz.
"He was a great athlete, not just a kicker," said Lutz, who marveled at Shaw's speed. "He was like a linebacker: He liked to hit people. He'd say, 'Coach, if they do return it, I'm going to knock somebody out.' "
Lutz takes as much pride in talking about taking phone calls from professors on Shaw's behalf as he does boasting that he was a member of two Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship teams. Shaw knew back then his calling, that he wanted in the community near and dear to him, as a coach and a cop.
"Brian Shaw had no enemies," Lutz said. "He wasn't your typical kicker. They can be outcasts sometimes. He knew everybody. He majored in criminal justice, and I'd ask if he wanted to be in the Secret Service or FBI. He talked about being in the police force. He wanted to give back to the community and the area he grew up. He knew what his purpose was."
So, Brian Shaw became a police officer, to protect and serve the A-K Valley where he was a three-sport standout whose kickoffs under the Friday Night Lights resembled what he was: a shooting star — a bright light that faded before we could blink.
What's tragic is that his career was as short as his kicks were long, that we shed so many tears for a man who wore an ever-present smile.
His sacrifice is a kick, one we can never return. Call it Brian Shaw's final touchback.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.