If you ask head coach Tom Allen, Shaun Shivers’ size might be his best asset. Not just for what it does for him on the field, but who it forced him to become off it.
Toughness and physicality are non-negotiables when it comes to playing for Allen, and his new running back from Auburn has those traits in abundance.
Shivers’ listed height of 5-foot-7 seems generous. He is the shortest player on the team, even a couple inches shy of kicker Charles Campbell.
Whatever the right measurements may be, Shivers can bring a shoulder fast and low, and he isn’t afraid to use it.
“I always tell the defense, ‘just be ready, you never know when I’m gonna drop it,'” Shivers said this week after a practice in Bloomington.
Shivers achieved legend status at Auburn when he lowered a shoulder and delivered a hit that knocked off the helmet of Alabama’s Xavier McKinney on his way to the end zone. As McKinney found out, it’s hard to get low enough to get to Shivers’ legs, and doesn’t mind making those who try pay the price. That’s where it all starts with the 186-pound back with tree trunk legs — determination.
“He’s very compact, very strong and very powerful, but I love his mindset,” Allen said.
“You take a young man like that has obviously probably never been considered tall [in his life]. He’s probably always been short and undersized and that creates a toughness to him.
“That’s never left him. It’s made him who he is. He has a tremendous edge about him, very physical, very tough kid.”
There is a long history of great NFL backs on the short size.
The list of all-time leading rushers starts out 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10 and 5-foot-8, in Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders, respectively.
Shivers says he crafted his game after Smith, along with a more recent back he might have an inch on.
“I used to like Darren Sproles a lot, and I used to like Emmitt Smith too,” Shivers said. “He could get downhill, he was physical and he was fast too.”
Many of the great shorter backs are also very good at changing direction, and Shivers is no exception.
Is he going to run over you or around you? If Shivers doesn’t pop your helmet off, he might just leave you in the dust.
“The other thing about him, which is awesome as a coach, is he also has the ability to make you miss and that’s what he can do really well,” Allen.
There are a lot of reasons to believe Shivers is in line to be the starter at running back when Indiana opens the season on Sept. 2 against Illinois.
And we haven’t even gotten to his perhaps his greatest strength on the field.
Shivers is more than a shifty, physical back with a low center of gravity. He also has elite speed — good enough to run track for Auburn, where he ran the 100 and 200 meter and clocked in under 21 seconds in the latter event and 10.4 in the 100.
Shivers says he is comfortable in new IU offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s offense, an up-tempo system he describes as similar to what was used at Auburn under Gus Malzahn.
It all kind of adds up for him. Play fast, and when the defense gets tired, bring the pain.
“I like the fast-paced offense,” Shivers said. “That’s going to wear the defense out, and when the defense is tired, we’re going to hit them north and south.”
If you’ve followed enough running back competitions, you know pass protection can be a deciding factor. This is Shivers’ fifth season in college football, and he has that part down too. It was the first thing new running back coach Craig Johnson brought up this week when discussing Shivers.
“One of the great things that college guys got to understand is pass protection — one, who to block, two how to block,” Johnson said.
“And one thing he has shown time after time is he’s done a very good job in pass protection. He knows where his assignments are he knows when to get out. Rhythm and spacing specifically for the backs and the tight ends and every offense is key, and I’ve been really happy about that.”
The more you examine Shivers, the more it seems clear he’ll run out on the field for the first offensive series in a few weeks. Along with all of his physical ability and technical skill, he brings big stage experience to the IU backfield after appearing in 49 games with nine starts at Auburn.
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native enters his first season with the Hoosiers as a 1,000-yard rusher in his career with eight rushing scores. He also owns 38 career receptions for 211 yards and has served as a return specialist in his career, as well.
But was there an issue that forced Shivers out at Auburn?
Another Allen non-negotiable is culture.
Shivers is known for his big smile and energy. He’s a friend and teammate off the field, and a bowling ball on it.
His head coach loves what he brings to the team.
And it all starts with toughness.
“I think he’s already infected our whole offense with that mindset and to me that’s a really big deal to have a guy like that and the ability to have a positive impact on his entire team,” Allen said. “That’s a toughness that you have to have and that mindset to try to run somebody over regardless.”
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