Striking success

Southern's Austin Shaw used to get knocked around on the field

now the senior forward can hold his own - and so can the Bulldogs


September 27, 2006|By Alejandro Danois | Alejandro Danois,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Southern senior striker Austin Shaw was a freshman, he was the Bulldogs' lone scoring threat and often was knocked around on the field by bigger and stronger defenders.

But instead of getting frustrated, he viewed it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

"Everything that happened during my freshman year, getting the mess beaten out of me, helped me get into the position that I'm in now," said Shaw, who is regarded as one of the best players in the county. "Playing at a small school with a team that wasn't that good gave me the experience to play against better players."

A two-time All-County performer, Shaw earned All-State honorable mention honors last year. His talent and positive outlook seem to have rubbed off on his teammates, helping to create a new persona for the Southern soccer program.

During Shaw's freshman season, Southern, the smallest public school in the county, barely had enough players to fill a roster and finished with an 0-12 record.

"For years, that was normal," Southern coach Ward Brumfield said. "Schools looked at Southern as the league doormat. Everyone wiped their feet on us and went about their business."

A graceful scorer with exceptional vision, speed and finesse, Shaw creates match-up problems for any defense.

Before he began playing competitively at age 4, the game was already a part of his life. Photos of Shaw as a toddler, spread throughout the family home, invariably include a soccer ball somewhere in the frame.

When Shaw was 5, a friend's grandfather nicknamed him "Freight Train." While the other children were learning the game and moving in what appeared to be slow motion, Shaw was whizzing across the grass with uncanny speed.

"One coach threatened to tie his feet together to slow him down," said his father, David Shaw.

In the first county game of his sophomore year, against Northeast, Shaw scored three goals in a 4-0 victory. In the ensuing game against North County, he scored three more, including the game-winner in the second overtime.

Gathering a through ball from mid-field, Shaw blew past a defender and had a one-on-one matchup with North County's goalie. He sent a perfect shot off his right instep and into the side netting, past the goalie's outstretched hand.

Lost in the moment, Shaw ripped off his jersey.

Other teams are no longer taking Southern soccer lightly. At the end of games, Brumfield said he often is approached by opposing coaches who comment on the program's improvement.

The Bulldogs finished the season with six wins. Last year, with an inexperienced team of underclassmen, Southern won five games.

After tryouts this fall, in which more than 50 players came out, Brumfield was in the awkward, unfamiliar position of having to cut players. In years past, if a player showed up, he made the team.

At practice, Shaw is an extension of his coach on the field, halting the action to talk strategy with his less-experienced teammates. Not long ago, his teammates would stand around and watch Shaw attack teams by himself. Now they're running with him, feeding him the ball within the set structure of the offense.

With defenses designating two and three players to shadow him, the other Bulldogs are able to capitalize.

"Austin is by far our most gifted player, and he takes a defense with him," Brumfield said. "That opens up space for our other players."

A perfectionist with a nose for the ball, Shaw said he is happy that the fortunes of Southern soccer are changing for the better. When looking back on his experiences with the game, Shaw also is thankful for the support of his family.

"Out of the hundreds of games that I've played over the years, my parents have missed maybe two or three," Shaw said. "They've helped me more than anything else and there's no way to repay them for what they've given me."

The Southern soccer program could say the same thing about him.

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