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The roadblock to his final college football season really wasn’t a roadblock at all. It was a new beginning – and awakening, if you will – for UAB receiver Trea Shropshire.
It came as part of a rugged start to the season for the 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior from Zachary, Louisiana. He played just a few snaps in the season-opening win over Alabama A&M, getting banged up on an early hit and caught just one pass for 56 yards the following week against Liberty. He also had an undisciplined personal foul penalty at Liberty, that not only wiped out a positive gain but also ruined what would have been an impressive knockdown block.
The next week, with the Blazers playing what was a critical early season game against Georgia Southern, Shropshire was not in uniform. He was suspended for violation of team standards. UAB head coach Bryant Vincent wasn’t specific on the reasons for the suspension, but really that wasn’t the most important thing. The reaction to the suspension was more important than the cause of the violation.
“Sometimes, the best thing is tough love,” Vincent said. “And, sometimes the best thing, in the long run, is to make some tough decisions. His response was incredible. He has had probably the best three weeks of practice that I’ve seen him have. His attitude is phenomenal. It either strengthens us or it weakens us. I think he chose to strengthen this football team and be a selfless player.”
His game day numbers certainly reflect that assessment. Shropshire had four catches for 65 yards with a 28-yard touchdown catch in the loss at Rice. Last week, he caught six passes for 193 yards, scored on a touchdown pass of 68 yards, caught two other deep balls, the first on the first snap of the game, and had 48 yards after the catch. All of that production came in the first half of the 41-14 win. Two days later, he was selected as the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week.
It all started with a bad three weeks.
“It was very difficult,” Shropshire said. “It wasn’t what I expected it to be, but I’m learning from it and working my way up. It will help me a lot. It humbled me, made me work harder and showed me to trust Coach V. That really helped me out.”
The offense also perked up in his return. The Blazers had 581 yards in offense against Middle Tennessee, marking the most total yards in a game since gaining a school record 668 yards against UTSA on Nov. 3, 2018.
Obviously, UAB has run the ball well against every team the Blazers have faced this season. But, Shropshire taking the top off against Middle Tennessee was a big key to the big night.
“With our running game and our play action game, when you have Trea Shropshire and Tejhaun Palmer that can take the top off when those safeties want to come down and start fitting the run, which everybody’s doing to us right now, that gives us the ability and the opportunity to go over the top,” Vincent said. “When we start hitting those shots and we start attacking defenses early in that way, that’s when this offense can really start running.”
David Brewerton, who is in his ninth season as the Zachary High football head coach, has seen this unfold before. Shropshire was a three-year varsity starter at receiver for Zachary and played on state championship teams as a sophomore and senior.
“Trea always had the rare, rare combination of a long, lanky guy with unbelievable speed,” Brewerton said. “Most of the time, when the kid is 6-2 or 6-3 as a sophomore, their body has to get used to their length and sometimes they’re awkward. That was never the problem with Trea. He was always very athletic and he was just lightning fast. That was the biggest thing for him.”
That speed earned him a spot at quarterback on the freshman team. Brewerton said there wasn’t a quarterback in the freshman class, so they gave the job to their best athlete.
“We certainly wanted him touching the ball on every play,” Brewerton said.
Shropshire was asked after practice if he could actually throw the football during his season at quarterback.
“I was just running around having fun,” Shropshire said with a smile. “I could throw, but not like Dylan (Hopkins).”
Catching the football was definitely his strength and he probably would have had a scholarship out of high school. However, he didn’t qualify academically and was forced to begin at a junior college. He played two years at Blinn Junior College in Texas, catching eight touchdown passes as a sophomore, before coming to UAB.
“He was extremely raw,” Vincent said. “He was 6-3, about 170 pounds, he was thin as a rail, but he could run and he was twitchy.”
At first, Shropshire admits, he was a bit lost.
“I was really behind, it was hard,” Shropshire said. “But, we’ve got good coaches over here and (wide receiver coach Larry Smith) helped me a lot.”
He caught a short touchdown pass in a win at South Alabama. For the most part, though, he was in the shadows, catching nine passes for 130 yards in the regular season.
Then came a frosty night in Huntington, West Virginia when the Blazers beat Marshall in the Conference USA Championship Game. He caught five passes and all of them were terrific catches. He gained 180 yards and the Blazers needed every one of those yards. He made an outstanding adjustment on a rainbow throw by Tyler Johnston and turned it into a game-clinching 71-yard touchdown pass.
“Where he ended up, showed his mindset and work ethic throughout the year,” Vincent said.
Last year, he was one of the most explosive receivers in the country, averaging a national best 26 yards per catch on his 27 receptions, scoring seven touchdowns, including a pair at UTSA, and closing the season with the game-winning touchdown catch in the Independence Bowl win over BYU.
The goal during the offseason was to become a more well-rounded receiver. The coaching staff pushed him to become more than just a fast guy who could get behind a secondary. Obviously, he didn’t have a chance to show that in the first three weeks. But, perhaps his most meaningful catch since his return to the lineup, came during the play when he fought his way back toward the line of scrimmage on an underthrown deep pass by Hopkins and outbattled the defensive back on a 44-yard gain.
“You see him catch the sprint out hitch and he attacked and ran through the DB for 11 yards,” Vincent said of the next play.
It’s that type of play, Vincent said, that will help take Shropshire to the next level as a receiver.
“The key is where can he be at the end of this season,” Vincent said. “If he’ll come every single day with the right mentality and the right purpose, his talent is elite. That’s what we’re seeing these last two weeks. He has a chance to be, obviously, a difference maker and be one of the best receivers, if not the best receiver, in the league.”
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