Monday was Adria Shaw’s birthday.
It was a low-key celebration. In the early evening, she was preparing to head out to watch SDSU’s basketball game against Ohio State in the Maui Invitational.
That game tipped off at 6 pm, but her plans quickly changed.
Shortly after 5 pm, she received a message from Liz Shawcroft, mother of SDSU linebacker Michael Shawcroft, congratulating her. At first, she thought it was for her son, sophomore wide receiver Mekhi Shaw, being named co-offensive player of the game earlier that day for his efforts against New Mexico.
Shaw caught six passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns on Friday night, giving him three in his last two contests and three in his Aztecs’ career.
Liz Shawcroft’s text was not about Mekhi Shaw’s weekly team award. It was a little more significant.
She was directed to the video the football team’s social media accounts posted only a few minutes earlier.
She began crying and was unable to stop for most of the night.
— San Diego State Football (@AztecFB) November 22, 2022
The video showed SDSU head coach Brady Hoke asking her son to stand up in front of the team and telling him that he received a scholarship.
“We had one (scholarship) left to give,” said Hoke during Tuesday’s weekly press conference. “He stood out. You look at what he has done (in) the last six weeks. Every day how he (has) practiced. The effort that he gives. He earned it.”
Shaw enrolled at SDSU in the fall of 2020 as a preferred walk-on (PWO) out of local Scripps Ranch High School. As a PWO, Shaw was a full member of the team but had to pay for his own tuition.
“Complete surprise,” Adria Shaw said during an interview with EVT when asked if the family knew the scholarship was coming on Monday. “Mekhi is a super humble kid. He knows he’s been working hard, but he knows he will get what he deserves.”
Adria called her husband to relay the extraordinary news. Mekhi was still at practice and had not had a chance to call his family to tell them before the video was posted.
Finally, Mekhi called, and the family shared the momentous occasion together.
“I wanted to call my parents and thank them first and give gratitude to all who supported me through my journey from high school and pop warner,” said Shaw.
“I don’t think any words can express how proud we are,” Adria Shaw said. “He is an exceptional kid. Never asked for anything his whole life.”
Jesse Matthews, Shaw’s teammate and fellow wide receiver understands the importance of this moment. He experienced it himself at the end of his second year at SDSU in 2019 when he was awarded a scholarship after entering the program as a walk-on from local Christian High School.
“I knew he was going to get one from last year, just the way he works,” Matthews said on Tuesday during the weekly press conference. “He reminds me a lot of myself … just his skillset and what he can bring to the table. Watching him develop over these last couple of years has been really awesome.”
Shaw considers Matthews a big role model and appreciates what he has done to help him. “I try to do everything I can like (Matthews) because he lives the right way,” said Shaw after practice on Tuesday evening.
What was going through Shaw’s mind when coach Hoke asked him to stand up during the team meeting?
“I had no idea he was going to tell me to (stand up), but when he did, I thought it could only be one thing really,” recalled Shaw. “I was nervous. I was excited. I was not sure how to react. It made me really happy that my teammates surrounded me to congratulate me.”
Shaw played both cornerback and wide receiver at Scripps Ranch High School and was a two-time all-league selection. In his senior year, Shaw caught 20 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns and made 40 tackles, four tackles loss, one interception, and one fumble recovery.
“(Shaw) was an amazing high school corner,” said Marlon Gardinera, Shaw’s head coach at Scripps Ranch High School, in an interview with EVT. “People just didn’t throw to (his) side,” he said.
Gardinera noted they used Shaw as a receiver only when needed to make sure not to wear him out to play cornerback, but when he did play receiver, defenders had trouble getting their hands on him.
“He is physically gifted,” Gardinera explained. “He’s fast … he’s special on the field and always has been.”
But Gardinera was more interested in describing the brilliance of Shaw as a human being than a football player.
“As a head coach, my job is to teach young men how to thrive (in life) using football,” he said. “To bring out the best in them. Hard work. Commitment. Dedication. Dealing with adversity. Discipline. Accountability. Mekhi already had all of that. I didn’t have to teach him anything. He was what you hope to develop young men to be, (but) from the beginning.”
So why the lack of scholarship offers for such a gifted two-way player?
“I was surprised (at the lack of offers) because I knew how talented he was,” said Gardinera. “(But) I wasn’t surprised because coming out of high school, he didn’t pass the eye test. He just wasn’t that big.”
Shaw was listed at 5-10, 170 lbs as a freshman at SDSU and is currently listed at 175 lbs.
Gardinera and the rest of the Scripps Ranch coaching staff did everything they could to make sure recruiters understood that Shaw was not the risk they perceived him to be.
“Trust me, this kid is amazing,” he would tell colleges while letting them know Shaw’s father was 6-4 “with the wingspan of an albatross,” and Mekhi could grow. “Trust us. Ignore all that (about his lack of size). Believe me.”
“San Diego State had faith, and now look at him.”
Shaw’s college fate was not always predestined to becoming a Hometown Hero. He initially committed to Nevada after Nevada recruiters came to Scripps Ranch to watch one of Shaw’s teammates in the secondary workout.
Gardinera asked Shaw to do him a favor and run routes to help his teammate during the workout.
“I told Mekhi, take it easy, they are here to see this (other) guy, so let them see him and not you,” Gardinera recalled.
Despite the defensive back playing real physical with Shaw off the line, Shaw obliged at first and just ran the expected routes because he understood his role was to help his teammate.
“After about the third or fourth time, he kind of looks back at me like all right, coach, can I do this now?” Gardinera explained. “And he ran three or four routes, and the defensive back never touched him. I don’t even think he saw him.”
Nevada offered him a PWO spot that day just based on seeing him run routes for the first time against a defensive back they were interested in. Shaw committed shortly after.
Eventually, Shaw caught the eye of SDSU cornerbacks coach Demetrius Sumler, who visited the high school several times and sparked a relationship with Gardinera talking about Shaw’s work ethic, humility, and endless talent. Once SDSU made a PWO offer, it was a no-brainer decision.
“For Mekhi, there’s no better place than San Diego,” Gardinera explained. “He loves San Diego. His family is here. He’s got two brothers and a sister. So this was a great place for him to land.”
Shaw redshirted his freshman year at SDSU while working with the cornerbacks. By the time spring 2021 came around, Shaw was working with the wide receivers under coach Hunkie Cooper.
“Coach Coop and coach Sumler fought over Mekhi, and clearly, coach Coop won,” joked Adria Shaw.
The number of players ahead of Shaw at cornerback and the opportunity to get on the field earlier at wide receiver were factors in the transition, per Hoke.
Matthews added another layer to the story, recalling that Shaw served as a scout wide receiver for the defense in 2020.
“(Shaw) was kinda cutting up the defense a little bit, so they took notice,” he stated as defensive lineman Jonah Tavai, who was sitting next to Matthews, grinned and nodded in agreement.
In 2021, Shaw appeared in 12 games and started once (against Towson). He totaled four catches for 42 yards.
Despite his lack of playing time on the field, Shaw excelled in the classroom earning Mountain West Scholar-Athlete and All-Academic Team honors in his first two years while majoring in biology.
“(Shaw) has all biology and math classes, all labs, and then the kid goes and works at Home Depot,” said coach Cooper on Episode 17 of The SDSU Football Podcast in April. “He was a corner when he first got here, came into the offense, learned the offense that quick, and he’s productive. High output, high productivity guy, low maintenance.”
Ask anyone about Shaw, and the first thing mentioned is how he doesn’t talk much. He doesn’t talk smack to teammates or opponents. He just plays.
“That’s just how I like to be,” he remarked. “Talk is talk, that’s all it is. I like to show with action.”
Shaw’s passion and work ethic for education came at an early age, according to his mother.
“Mekhi used to watch ESPN Sportscenter at age 2, and we knew he was something special,” she recalled. “He has always been book smart too. Majoring in biology isn’t easy for anyone, especially football players. He does it with ease, and he does what his coaches ask him to do. He is extremely dedicated and focused; it is just his personality. He treats school and football like a job, and he does it well. Scholarship or not.”
The Shaw family won’t have to worry about the “or not” part after yesterday.
Per USNews.com, the total cost to attend SDSU for the current school year is $31,484. This amount includes tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation and personal expenses. Multiply that number by four (the average amount of years to finish a degree program), and the costs can become a major financial burden for any student and his or her family.
For the Shaw’s, that number grew exponentially in 2022 as Mekhi’s younger brother, Jalen, began his freshman year in college.
“Two college tuitions is not fun,” remarked Adria Shaw. “We agreed that as long as (Mekhi) got the grades and did the work on the field, we’d take care of it. We made it work because he’s worth it. We knew deep down he has the work ethic to earn a scholarship, so we put trust in the system.”
Hoke confirmed on Tuesday that Shaw’s scholarship takes effect immediately with this current fall semester, and Shaw was appreciative of his parents, particularly his mom, for raising him well. “All I can do is give back to her so she can focus on supporting my younger siblings,” he added.
Like the rest of SDSU’s offense, Shaw’s 2022 season began with very little production. Despite being named as the starter at WR-H to start the season, Shaw caught only three passes for 28 yards through the first five games.
With the changes in the coaching staff and the insertion of Jalen Mayden at quarterback, the passing offense has thrived, and Shaw has been a big reason why. In the last six games, Shaw has 25 receptions for 315 yards to go with his three touchdowns.
The buzz for the walk-on to receive a scholarship due to his elevated play grew on social media over the last two weeks. His mother was a big part of that, tweeting out several times about her son deserving a scholarship and tagging coach Cooper’s account.
— Adria Shaw (@sheistyb) November 14, 2022
“We love Coach Coop,” said Adria Shaw. “He’s such an inspiration and role model to these wide receivers.”
Matthews sang the praises of coach Cooper during Tuesday’s press conference, noting that three walk-on wide receivers have been awarded scholarships in the past four years. BJ Busbee, the third in the group, was put on scholarship prior to the start of the 2021 season.
“It speaks a lot to his development of young men and what he has been able to do with young receivers as walk-ons,” Matthews said about coach Cooper.
“I knew coach Coop would have my back as long as I worked hard … he made things easier for me, so I am really thankful for that,” added Shaw.
The fact her son was awarded a scholarship on her birthday added to the exuberance of the news. “BEST BIRTHDAY GIFT EVER,” she posted on Twitter.
“He was always the smallest kid on that football field, but he was the hardest worker out of anyone,” she said with pride. “He never asked for accolades. He respects everyone. And he worked so hard for what he’s earned.”
“I know he’s my son, but ask anyone. (He is the) most humble, well-deserving kid. Ever.”
What was Gardinera’s reaction upon hearing the news?
“Mekhi is the most humble, hard-working kid, I’ve ever coached. He’s the best athlete I’ve ever coached. You want good things to happen to great people, and something great happened to somebody that’s pretty awesome.”