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A little more than three months ago, Shawn Shamburger was a man without a home.
The Mobile native turned 19 years old over the summer and was thus ineligible to play high school football in Alabama.
Looking for options to continue his player career, the 6-foot, 188-pound cornerback ultimately relocated to Georgia, whose bylaws have an earlier eligibility date, and decided to play for high school coaching legend Rush Probst at Colquitt County.
It was a life-changing decision for Shamburger, as the once little-known defensive back at Theodore (Ala.) High has seen his stock skyrocket since transferring to the nationally renowned Packers program.
“I played some tough competition down (in Mobile),” Shamburger told me.
“But when I came up here, it really boosted my stock. It’s been a great experience to come up here. It’s a great place to be. Everything is pieced together and tied together. I love my team. I love my teammates.”
A new home
Three days ago, Shamburger found his new home for the next four years.
The 3-star cornerback committed to Tennessee on Saturday night, choosing the Volunteers over offers from Auburn, Ole Miss and others.
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It was a rapid recruitment for Shamburger, who’d just received a Tennessee offer days earlier. The defensive back had heard regularly from Volunteers linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen for a while, but it wasn’t until a text conversation with Tennessee freshman linebacker Ja’Wuain Blakely, a former Packers standout, that he truly recognized the program’s interest.
“Last weekend, I was at South Carolina for the Tennessee game,” Shamburger explained.
“And (Blakely) was Snapchatting me on the way up there and texting and stuff, talking about, ‘I think these guys want to offer you. If they offer you, are you going to commit?’”
“I was like, ‘Man, you know what, I ain’t going to lie to you. If I love it, yeah.’ It kind of just all came together because I wasn’t thinking they were really going to offer me (so soon). He might’ve been BS’ing around. But when they offered, and then I went up on a visit and loved it, I was like, ‘Oh, this is why he wanted to be here. This is what he’s been talking about.’”
Upon Tennessee’s request, Shamburger visited Knoxville over the weekend for the Tennessee Tech game, catching the Volunteers 55-0 rout. He checked out the campus, toured the facilities and met with the coaches.
Then he walked into Neyland Stadium.
He was stunned.
“People, all the coaches told me Tennessee was ‘a great place to be.’ When I went up there on my visit, it was kind of overwhelming when you step inside the stadium and see 80,000 people on homecoming game where nobody really ever shows up. It was amazing,” he said.
“When I first stepped into the practice facility and the indoor field, it was amazing. They have everything linked together. It goes from the practice facility to the weight room to the dining hall. Everything is in one (place), and then they’re talking about adding on an apartment complex right next to it, right next to the academic center. So, everything is centered around each other, so it’s great for athletes.”
Shamburger immediately bonded with Thigpen and secondary staffer Willie Martinez. He was impressed by Tennessee’s serious interest and its general family atmosphere.
By the early evening, he’d made a decision.
“Everything got pieced together,” he said.
“It was a sudden commitment nonetheless, but it’s a hard commitment. I can tell you that for sure.”
Shamburger was once committed to Louisiana-Lafayette this summer. He previously held offers from schools such as Southern Miss and South Alabama.
But his move to a powerhouse 6A program fresh off consecutive state titles completely changed his recruitment. Shamburger has flashed as a three-way player for the Packers, emulating his favorite player, Deion Sanders, by starring at cornerback, returner and receiver. He has 5 interceptions this season, including a one-handed, 102-yard pick six against rival Valdosta.
“I’m a ballhawk and love being in an area where I can make a play,” Shamburger said.
“That’s my deal. I love making plays on the ball. That’s what I do.”
Asked if he high-stepped his interception into the end zone, he laughed and said, “Na. The game was a little too close for comfort.”
Plus, Rush would’ve killed him.
With Saturday’s commitment, Shamburger is now Tennessee’s 27th commit in the Class of 2017. He is the third true cornerback on the list, but Shamburger believes he can come in and vie for immediate snaps. He also understands the rashness in his decision, but feels quite strongly about his choice.
Still, for the second time in roughly a week, coach Butch Jones was a tad surprised about an early commitment.
“Are you sure?” Jones initially asked according to Shamburger.
Once Shamburger gave Jones a definitive “YES!” then Jones responded, ‘We’re glad to have you.’
“Then he gave me the biggest hug ever,” Shamburger said.
“He was pretty happy to have me. I feel like that’s the place for me. That’s the place I need to be.”
Shamburger, who grew up rooting for the Auburn Tigers, still plans to take all five official visits — including trips to Auburn and Ole Miss — but nothing is finalized as of yet.
He hopes to return to Knoxville for the Missouri game on Nov. 19.
“It’s been a crazy experience,” Shamburger said.
“I didn’t grow up a Tennessee fan. But they were interested. It’s an SEC school. It’s the right school.”