MURRAY, Ky. — South Carolina running backs coach Bobby Bentley was just like any other dad, forced to answer too many questions that began with why.
Except it was a little different with Shuler, the second-oldest of his and Paulette’s five children.
Why is the safety getting off the hash? Why is the defensive end dropping back into coverage? Why does the receiver run the route like that? Why does the quarterback take an extra step on his drop?
“He was always asking why while he was watching everything with me,” Bobby said.
That comes with the territory when the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Bobby, a high school coaching legend in South Carolina, built one of the most successful programs in the state, leading Byrnes to an impressive run that included 119 victories and four consecutive state championships from 2002-05.
Now, entering his second season as an assistant for Will Muschamp at South Carolina, Bobby gets to work alongside two of his sons. Jake, who is a few years younger than Shuler, is the Gamecocks quarterback. Stepson Chas Dodd is a graduate assistant strength coach.
If his coaching career starts the way he hopes it will, Shuler will become a graduate assistant at South Carolina. In the meantime, he’s a redshirt junior at Murray State. Having transferred from Old Dominion, Shuler is trying to win the Murray State starting quarterback job.
“Real smart. Real cerebral kid. Knows ball,” Racers coach Mitch Stewart said. “Understands, conceptually, what’s going on. You don’t have to teach him what smash is and why you call it smash, things like that. The learning curve was really easy for him.
“Then, also, you’ve got a kid who’s got collegiate experience. He’s got starts at Old Dominion and played very well up there, so very excited. Very excited to have him.”
Shuler started eight of the 10 games he played as a redshirt freshman in 2015, completing 140 of 269 passes with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions for the Monarchs. In 2016, he appeared in two games, connecting on 4 of 10 passes for 66 yards.
“It got to where he just wasn’t having fun,” Bobby said, “and I told him, as much as you love football, you need to have a change of venue. You need to have a fresh start. You don’t need to lose that fire that you have for this game.
“He’s back loving life again and the game of football here.”
Last Friday, Shuler was the first quarterback to take the field in the Murray State spring game. He’s one of five competing for the starting job. KD Humphries, who owns school records for passing yards and touchdown passes, completed his eligibility last season.
“Murray State has been everything that I needed for it to be,” Shuler said. “I appreciate Coach Stewart giving me another chance. … I’ve loved every minute here. I can’t wait to have another year-and-a-half, two years of ball, playing and getting a degree from Murray State.”
It’s funny how football can connect one path to another.
For Shuler, the road to Murray State began when Bobby packed the family and moved to Alabama in 2014, after he was hired as an offensive assistant at Auburn by Gus Malzahn.
The family settled in nearby Opelika, Stewart’s hometown. Jake played quarterback at Opelika High, where he was coached by Brian Blackmon, who would become the intermediary for Shuler and Murray State.
Blackmon, Stewart said, “sent me a text and said, ‘Hey, man, do you need a quarterback?’ He told me who he was and I was like, ‘Shoot, yeah.’ ”
Stewart won’t name a starter until preseason camp, but Shuler spent the final week or two of Racers spring practice quarterbacking the first-team offense.
“He’s done a good job fitting in, coming in midyear and fitting in and getting with the boys, being able to rally the boys and all that kind of stuff, so it’s been good,” Stewart said. “It’s one of those things, if you can find that quarterback that you get comfortable with, as a player-caller, that’s what you look for.
“And, obviously, he gives you some of that, because you’re not going to catch the kid off guard.”
South Carolina connection
Shuler couldn’t care less that he’s trying to win a job at Murray State while his younger brother is entrenched as the starter at South Carolina.
What gets him is that he’s not on the same team as his dad and two brothers.
Shuler’s father, Bobby, coaches Gamecocks running backs. His older stepbrother, Chas Dodd, is a graduate assistant on the strength staff. Jake, the younger brother, is the quarterback
“It’s awesome, but then again, that’s the only part I do get jealous at, they get to all be together,” Shuler said, “But it’s awesome that they get to celebrate together. I feel like I’m right there when I’m watching it on TV.”
And watch he does. Before games last season at Old Dominion, if South Carolina was playing, Shuler was tuned in.
“I have Watch ESPN. I ditched listening to music during pregame warm-ups and started listening to the radio or the commentary on my headphones as I was warming up, which was kind of fun,” Shuler said. “But also kind of got made fun of for watching the game in the middle of the field, two hours before the game, but anybody would do that for their brother.”
Following in the footsteps
Bobby calls him a “football nerd.” Shuler prefers “football guy.” Dodd tends to lean toward Bobby’s choice of nomenclature.
“Ever since [Shuler] was old enough to really watch TV and know what he was watching, he constantly had ESPN on. He doesn’t just watch it for football. He watches it for every sport imaginable,” Dodd said. “He could know what the judge’s name is for a racquetball tournament. He’s just so involved in sports and ESPN, it’s an immediate carryover to the field and the position and the sport he plays, because he takes the same approach.
“He’s going to know a defense in and out. He studies the game more than anyone I’ve been around. It’s really crazy to kind of see the level of commitment, in that aspect that he has. He’s been that way as long as I can remember. It’s crazy.”
Watching games on TV when they were growing up would drive Jake crazy.
“Every game, if the game was three hours long, it would take us five hours to watch it, because [Shuler] and my dad would just always rewind it, draw up a play or dad would quiz us,” Jake said. “What defense is this? What play would work good here? At times, I just wanted to watch the game.”
Shuler, Jake said, “always, just 24/7, wanted to rewind stuff. With him, I think that just helped with him being so football smart. He just loves watching football. Now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten that way, too. But he’s been that way since he was really young.”
Shuler, “without a doubt,” is going to follow in Bobby’s footsteps. That’s been the plan since he was in third grade.
“That’s what I want to do and it’s helped that my dad’s in coaching and I have connections,” Shuler said. “Hopefully, something happens in a year and a half, two years, so we can go from there. Hopefully, dad and Muschamp hire me. I think I know a guy down there.”