July 17, 2012

Jaxon Shipley got a head start from brother Jordan

Recently, Jaxon Shipley and some of his high school buddies decided to sign up for a dodge ball tournament. One by one, Shipley's team mowed down the field until they reached the finals. As the battle drew to a close, Shipley found himself as the last man standing against a girl from the other team.

And that's when everyone saw Jaxon Shipley's competitive fire.

"It gets down to Jaxon and this girl on the other team," said Bob Shipley, Jaxon's father and high school football coach at Coppell and Brownwood. "She chunks it at him, and he dodges it, and I mean he's sprinting at her full speed and nails her right square in the head as hard as he can. He's just a competitor. Whatever he's doing, he wants to win.

"His goal is to be the very best he can be and let everything else take care of itself."

That girl can probably attest to that.

Shipley returns to Texas this season after a breakout freshman season as the team's second-leading receiver, trailing Mike Davis in receptions by one (45-44) and trailing Davis in receiving yards by two (609-607).

Davis, however, played three more games in 2011 than Shipley, who missed the Texas Tech, Missouri and Kansas State games with a knee injury.

Shipley tied tight ends Blaine Irby and D.J. Grant for the team-lead in TD catches with three.

"The knee injury was difficult for him because he felt like he was just getting into a groove and had gained the quarterbacks' confidence," Bob Shipley said.

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY: That injury was a low point for the Shipleys as both Jordan, Jaxon's older brother and UT's all-time receptions leader, and Jaxon were rehabbing from knee injuries in Austin at the same time. Jordan tore knee ligaments with the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 of last season in a 24-22 loss at Denver.

"It's a scenario I never thought I'd be in," Bob Shipley said. "Jordan was home in Austin rehabbing a knee, and Jaxon was in there rehabbing his knee as well.

"They've provided a lot of proud moments for a dad, but having them in the training room at the same time, out of commission, is not one of our brighter moments. But we are very blessed it wasn't more serious than it was, and he was able to come back."

Jaxon had to overcome a broken collarbone in high school that caused him to miss the first five games of his junior season.

Shipley came back from the knee injury and finished the 2011 regular season with a flurry, throwing a 41-yard touchdown pass to Blaine Irby in the Texas A&M game; catching four passes for 121 yards in a loss at Baylor, including a 78-yarder; and throwing another TD pass in the Holiday Bowl (a 4-yarder to David Ash).

"He wasn't anywhere near being back to full strength when he came back for A&M or Baylor or even the bowl game," Bob Shipley said. "But I think it's a good start, and I really like the direction the offense is going.

"You look at the teams competing for championships and you've got to be able to run the ball."

A DIFFERENT OFFENSE: Speaking of running the ball, Bob Shipley is anticipating a completely different career for Jaxon at Texas than that of Jordan.

"It will be a different career," Bob Shipley said. "With Colt (McCoy) and Jordan (Shipley) and Quan (Cosby) and those guys, everyone knew if they were going to have a chance to win, they were going to have to throw it.

"With the direction they're going now, people are going to have to stack defenders in the box, and that will open up the passing game.

"He won't have the stats that Jordan had, but obviously the goal is to win the national championship and contribute any way you can. And so I'm excited about it. Whichever quarterback ends up being the guy or both of them, they are certainly going to be better and more experienced.

"I'm excited about the way the line is coming along. I was just thankful he was able to contribute as much as he was that first year and obviously look forward to picking up where he left off last year."

PERFECT PASSER RATING: Perhaps the most amazing stat of Shipley's freshman season in 2011 was completing all four passes he threw, including three for touchdowns. Shipley threw nearly as many TD passes (3) as David Ash (4), who played quarterback in all 13 games.

Bob Shipley joked that Jaxon threw three passes in high school (with dad as the coach) and two of those passes were intercepted.

"It's amazing what a little coaching will do," dad laughed.

Ironically, it was Jordan Shipley who trained as a quarterback in middle school before moving to receiver at Burnet, where he set records catching passes from Stephen McGee. Jaxon, on the other hand, was always a receiver, yet has proven to make great decisions at QB.

BIG BROTHER: Jaxon raised some eyebrows when he chose to wear his older brother's No. 8 at Texas, saying, "I'm not afraid of expectations and comparisons. I want to try and live up to what my brother did."

Jordan told me at Pro Day in March he thinks Jaxon is a better receiver than he was at the same stage of their college careers. If that's true, Jordan is a big reason why.

Jaxon graduated early from high school and thought seriously about enrolling early at Texas to go through spring ball in 2011. But Jordan was back home in Brownwood, training after a rookie season in which Jordan caught 52 passes for 600 yards and three touchdowns.

"He felt like he had a chance of a lifetime to train with Jordan," Bob Shipley said. "We were all worried about how Mack (Brown) was going to respond to that. But Mack was incredibly supportive and thought it was a really good idea, too."

Of course, there were some selfish reasons for Jaxon to want to train with Jordan.

"They had ulterior motives. Not only did they train. They played a lot, too," Bob Shipley said. "They'd go hunting and fishing and water skiing. Jordan wasn't married yet and had the time and the money to let Jaxon tag along and so some things he never would have been able to do.

"So it was just that window of opportunity after Jordan's rookie season and before he got married, about four or five months, where they could spend some quality time. I think that's where Jaxon really sharpened his skills and learned how to watch film.

"Jordan had all the cutups of Wes Welker that they had been showing him in Cincinnati. So Jaxon spent a lot of time watching video with and without Jordan. It would have been good to have him in spring ball, but he improved his football and got to spend quality time with his brother."

NIGHT AND DAY DIFFERENCE: I asked Bob Shipley how his sons are different.

"They are different in a lot of ways," Bob said. "Athletically, there are similarities. But personality wise they are really different.

"You could check Jordan's pulse before the Texas-OU game, and you'd have to really look to find it. Whereas Jaxon is much more wired. He's much more emotional. When he makes a play or a catch, he's just more outward with his teammates than Jordan was.

"It's not that Jaxon's nervous playing football. He's just more jacked up to play. Jordan just kept his emotions more in check. He just wasn't as extroverted as Jaxon is.

"Jaxon is a lot more outgoing than Jordan and will strike up a conversation with a stranger. Whereas Jordan would probably rather be in a fishing boat or deer blind than talking to anyone, if truth be known."

And, of course, dad can point out all the differences as players as well.

"I think it's good that Jaxon is more emotional," Bob Shipley said. "I think the guys on the team can feed off of that. I think the guys probably fed off Jordan's personality in a different way. He was probably a guy a lot of his teammates looked to to stay calm."

And because of Jaxon's physical build, he's a different kind of receiver than his older brother.

"Jaxon's a leaper," Bob Shipley said. "When they are standing next to each other, Jaxon's an inch or two taller than Jordan. But Jaxon's legs are so much longer than Jordan's. Jordan has short legs and kind of a long torso.

"Jaxon has long legs and even when he's on the field, he looks taller than he really is. For his size, Jordan did well going up and getting the ball. But Jaxon has more vertical ability than Jordan had and just has that knack of going up and getting the ball at its peak and shielding the defender off."

RAW INSTINCTS: Bob Shipley saw something from Jaxon against Iowa State last season, when he caught six passes for 141 yards, including a touchdown catch and run of 40 yards late in the second quarter.

Jaxon ran a wheel route as an inside receiver. With the DB's eyes fixed on Jaxon, he put his arms up as if the ball was coming. The DB quickly swung around to look for the ball in the air, but there was no pass yet. Jaxon used the fake to make the DB slow down, then ran by him and caught the ball wide open 17 yards later.

"He caught that ball almost as if he had never been covered," Bob Shipley said. "He said, 'I've always wanted to try that.' And the DB was watching him, so he threw his hands up as if the ball was arriving, the DB turned his head to look up for the ball, and Jaxon just kept running.

"That's not something I taught him. That's just the way his mind works. He thinks about it all the time when he's watching film. At that level, the DBs are so good, any little edge you can find to make them give up a step or two or hesitate can make the difference in a catch, a touchdown and ultimately the ballgame."

SHIPLEYS AND MCCOYS: The Shipleys and McCoys have a history dating back decades. Bob Shipley and Brad McCoy were teammates and roommates at Abilene Christian. And everyone knows about the inseparable friendship of Jordan Shipley and Colt McCoy. They roomed together all of their years at Texas, and stood in each other's weddings.

When Jaxon Shipley and Case McCoy roomed together as freshmen, everyone assumed the two were as tight as Jordan and Colt. But Bob Shipley said Jaxon has a strong friendship with both Case McCoy and David Ash.

"Jaxon and David developed a good relationship during the recruiting process," Bob Shipley said. "They had an open week at Belton, and David came to Llano and watched us (Brownwood) play.

"David, Case and Jaxon were all raised in the Church of Christ and all have ministers in their family. There's another common bond there.

"I don't want to say that Case and Jaxon are as close as Jordan and Colt were. Colt and Jordan were always together.

"Jaxon's roommate now is Josh Cochran. It seemed like wherever you saw Colt, you'd see Jordan or vice versa. That's not always the case with Jaxon and Case because they have other friends. I don't want to say they're not close, because they are. Jaxon and Case have both been there for each other in difficult situations. But they have other friends, too."

Jaxon had a unique view of the rotation at QB last season between Case McCoy and David Ash as a receiver.

"When it gets to that level, it's a game, but it really is a business in terms of who's more capable of getting the job done," Bob Shipley said. "Jaxon is very proud of Case and the way he's handled things and David, too.

"I don't think there's any question Case wants to be the starting quarterback. But he also understands that he may not be that guy. But he only needs to look at Colt's career to see that you're only one play away from being the guy.

"As close friends to both of them, it's hard to juggle that. But they've all maintained a healthy relationship. Whoever the starting quarterback is, all of their friendships are deep enough that it's not going to affect them as friends and Christians. They go to a lot of Bible studies together. They are more mature than to let something like this affect their friendships."

Bob Shipley said Jaxon told him, "'We can win with either one of them,' and I thought that was a positive statement for him to make.

"Sometimes when a quarterback doesn't have the upper hand, they go into a funk and think about transferring. And I'm not saying it hasn't been difficult for him. But I think Case has continued to work and compete to be ready for whatever the season holds for him, whether it's the backup job or the starter.

"Obviously David is more relaxed and feeling more of a leadership role."

THE SECOND COMING: When you ask Bob Shipley what Jaxon is capable of, he brings the conversation back to Jordan.

"Jaxon just has a special aura about him," Bob Shipley said. "He comes off the line and it's like his legs are pistons. He's just so smooth in and out of his breaks.

"He goes up and snags the ball and makes it look so easy. So I knew he'd have a chance to play. But Jordan made it easier for Jaxon because he had been through it. It got easier when Jordan made it at Texas."

Dad says whatever Jaxon accomplishes will be traced back to some of the lessons Jordan has taught him.

"Without a doubt, it's the mental aspect of it," Bob Shipley said. "Jaxon knows from Jordan he can't just rely on the athleticism. He has to find every little edge he can find to take advantage of.

"There is so much parity in college football now that everyone is good. Jordan will tell him, 'You think it's good now, just wait until you get to the NFL. The windows get tighter and tighter.'

"In the big games like Texas-OU last year and the A&M game, Jordan's advice is not to get caught up in the moment and just stay focused on your job is and how you can help the team."

Mack Brown and Bryan Harsin certainly saw a mature-beyond-his-years work ethic from Jaxon in practice as a freshman.

"It's really good for all of our players to see the way Jaxon works," Harsin said. "He really enjoys practice and uses every single one to get better. We need that approach to be contagious."

Added Mack Brown, "Jaxon Shipley is going to be a really good football player."

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