When Shaun Shivers first started playing running back as an 8-year-old in South Florida, his coaches told him to get the handoff from the quarterback and run straight for the sideline.
It was the easy role to typecast him into — he was usually the fastest player on the field and always the smallest.
So Shivers did what he was told. That is, until he changed youth leagues, and coaches said the reason he always ran to the sideline was because he couldn’t run up the middle.
“I can run up the middle, Mommy,” Joy McIntyre remembers her son telling her.
So she went and bought some cones and set them up in the yard. And every day, Shivers went outside and practiced running between them like they were linemen. It's part of the reason he typically likes to run through defenders rather than around them — they're in the path he's set for himself.
That’s the story of Shivers’ career. He’s a 5-foot-7 running back from a football hotbed, so he’s gone his entire life hearing all about what he can’t do. Run up the middle. Sign with an SEC school. Actually contribute on the field.
That always upset McIntyre. For her son, though, it was fuel.
“He likes when people say he can’t do this or he’s not this person,” McIntyre said. “It’s kind of like, ‘OK, that’s how you feel? Whatever. I’ll show you.’”
He has. Shivers rushed for more than 6,000 yards at Chaminade-Madonna Prep, including 1,807 during a senior season that ended with a state championship.
He signed with Auburn as a four-star recruit. He got on the field immediately, rushing for 371 yards as a freshman. He enters his senior season needing 67 yards to reach 1,000 for his career.
“I cannot say enough great things about Shaun Shivers. He is one of my favorite players that I’ve had an opportunity to coach,” running backs coach Cadillac Williams said. “He may not be the biggest guy, but I’m telling you he is not going to back down from a challenge. He’s going to bring it each and every day. He’s super important to this team.”
And he’s never been in a better situation on the Plains. His role on the depth chart is secure. New coach Bryan Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have been open about their desire to bring more physical, downhill running to the Tigers. It’s the same type of system Shivers excelled in high school, so they know he’s a fit for it.
When Shivers first sat down with Harsin to ask about his potential role, the coach told him he had seen the play where Shivers ran through Alabama safety Xavier McKinney and knocked his helmet off in the 2019 Iron Bowl. It’s the exact type of physicality he likes at the position.
“I just think this is the best offense for me because I have a chance to show what I can really do,” Shivers said.
He did that in Auburn's A-Day spring game last month. Tank Bigsby was the starter and star thanks to a 46-yard touchdown run, but Shivers shined in tandem, turning a team-high 12 carries into 55 yards.
That makes McIntyre happy. She’s always believed that if people stopped spending so much time telling her son what he can’t do, they would realize all he can do. But it’s also a catch-22, she said, because their doubts motivate him to be even better.
Maybe it’s a good thing someone wrote last week that Shivers “remains scared of contact,” even if it did end up being a typo.
“Me and him discuss things that we read people saying about him," McIntyre said. "The thing is, he calms me down, because he’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it, Ma Dukes, I got this. I’m going to show them. They’re going to see.'
“Whatever he’s feeling at that moment, trust me, the person on the field is going to feel it more.”