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Gorman: Shaw plays football for right reason

Kevin Gorman
| Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, 11:09 p.m.
Woodland Hills' Jo-El Shaw rushes deep into the West Allegheny defense on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, at Wolvarena. The Wolverines won 22-15.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Woodland Hills' Jo-El Shaw rushes deep into the West Allegheny defense on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, at Wolvarena. The Wolverines won 22-15.
Woodland Hills RB Jo-El Shaw lines up in the backfield during the West Allegheny Game at the Wolvarena on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Woodland Hills RB Jo-El Shaw lines up in the backfield during the West Allegheny Game at the Wolvarena on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015.

Every football player has his motivations, whether it's for stardom, a scholarship or something else.

Jo-El Shaw plays for his mom.

That's how the Woodland Hills senior starts the Clinton Foundation video that features him and his mother, Freeda Brown, talking about dealing with the drama and trauma of domestic abuse.

Through it, Brown taught her son how to survive and thrive in the face of adversity.

Shaw recalls in the video seeing his mother attacked on numerous occasions and speaks of ending the cycle of abuse and violence.

“It's a big part for me because I want my mom to live the good life,” Shaw said. “I don't want people to go through the same thing I went through.

“Being a football player, people look at us as leaders for the school. I play football for fun, but I play because I want to get her out of where we are. It serves as inspiration because it makes me grind harder. It made me physically tough and emotionally tough, all those things that I went through.”

That is what makes Shaw's season so special, seeing him step out from the shadow of All-American backfield mate Miles Sanders and into the spotlight.

The 6-foot-1, 233-pound Shaw is set on proving he can play running back. He had six consecutive 100-yard rushing games this season and scored three touchdowns twice in the past three games.

“I'm very excited for Jo-El,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “I think this time of the year, people are realizing that he is a running back. People thought he might be a fullback or defensive player, but he's a running back.”

Where Sanders has explosive speed and open-field elusiveness, Shaw combines pure power with a surprising spin move that leaves defenders grasping at air.

“I guess I had to show people that I have better feet than people expected, better moves and am quicker than most people think,” Shaw said. “Usually, I like to run guys over, but this year I'm showing that I can make a lot of guys miss and outrun people. It's a lot of deception. I'm running full speed at somebody, and they think I'm about to hit them, then they dive and miss me.”

Sanders and Shaw form a formidable backfield in which their talents complement one another for the top-ranked Wolverines, especially with their ability to block for each other.

“It's pretty good because you know people can't just game-plan on you. They have to game-plan for both of us,” Shaw said. “Miles gets some of the carries and I get some of the carries, so we're both rested a lot. I like to beat up the defense. Then, after a while, Miles breaks the big play because people are tired. People get tired of chasing him around, and I get to run people over because they don't want to hit.”

Woodland Hills has a program to address the taboo topic of domestic violence. Assistant coach Keith Davis runs the Coaching Boys into Men/Futures Without Violence, which focuses on teaching players to break the pattern of violence.

Shaw knows it starts with him.

“It's numbness because you're shocked,” Shaw said. “When you grow up in environments like that, you think that's how it's supposed to be.”

That is what makes Shaw's week so special, seeing him visit Western Michigan with his mother and commit Sunday.

“Jo-El's just a happy-go-lucky kid who loves sports. He's a very personable young man, and we're proud to have him at Woodland Hills,” Novak said. “It hasn't always been easy in his life, but he's right there, about to go to college, and we're proud of him.”

Almost as proud as the one for whom Shaw plays football.

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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