Right knee meniscus tear and broken thumb in 2019.
Right knee meniscus tear and broken thumb in 2021.
Grade 2 MCL sprain, ankle sprain, and foot sprain in 2022.
The story of San Diego State linebacker Michael Shawcroft cannot be told without documenting the injuries that besieged him during his football career.
But the true tale of his exploits is the battle and determination of a student-athlete to overcome every setback and still play 45 games over four years and earn All-Conference recognition twice.
“I barely practiced this year,” recalled Shawcroft in an interview on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Football Podcast. “I would practice a little bit Tuesday, Wednesday, (and) then Monday and Thursday I was completely off. Throughout the entire offseason, I would do one run a week. I was limited. I wouldn’t squat. I wouldn’t really do a lot of lower body.”
The effects of four surgeries in three years had caught up to the hometown hero from Helix High School as he prepared for his senior season. His teammates and coaches were aware of Shawcroft’s physical limitations and eased his offseason regimen to put his body in a comfortable stage.
As soon as fall camp hit, Shawcroft knew this may be his last one.
“This fall camp is hurting a lot more than a fall camp really should,” he recalled thinking to himself.
It was the 100th season of Aztec football, the opening of Snapdragon Stadium, and a chance to win the school’s 22nd conference championship. Shawcroft was all in.
In the fifth game of the season against Boise State, the Aztecs surrendered 35 points in the second half to blow a 13-0 halftime lead. In the process, Shawcroft suffered an injury that was expected to keep him sidelined for at least four weeks.
He only missed one game and returned after the bye week to play the final seven games of the season. But the injury and the aftereffects led Shawcroft to the realization that this would be the end of his football career.
“Every game, I’m getting shot up three times a week just to be able to play the game to numb the pain, and that was just something I really didn’t like putting in my body every single week,” Shawcroft described. “I don’t know if I really wanna do this again. To have the risk of coming back just to get another injury based on my track record. You get hurt again and realize that I just did all this work for nothing and prolonged everything, and I’m just hurt again.”
Due to a COVID exemption granted to collegiate athletes, Shawcroft is eligible to return and play one more season at SDSU. Based on his talent and athletic abilities, a spot on an NFL training camp roster in 2023 would be assured if he chose to transition to the next level.
Shawcroft just could not do it anymore. A few days before SDSU’s bowl game against Middle Tennessee State University, he posted a message on social media that the Hawai’i Bowl would be the final football game he would ever play.
Never Question God’s Plan🖤 pic.twitter.com/fLMXfaLXiQ
— Michael Anthony Shawcroft (@Shawcroft_M) December 22, 2022
“Unfortunately, I have to listen to my body and decide what is best for me and my future,” he wrote in the announcement.
The thought of putting his body through another SDSU fall camp or an NFL training camp was not what Shawcroft wished to do.
“When I’m done, I wanna be able to play with my kids,” he explained. “I want to have fun in life … I don’t want to be stuck in a chair for the rest of my life. (Coming back) would basically just be delaying the inevitable of being done with football.”
Shawcroft prepared for his final game the same way he prepared for every other game in his career. He did not put any greater emphasis on it in the days leading up to the game. During the game, Shawcroft did what he had done all year – lead the team in tackles (eight).
“It really didn’t hit me (that it was my final game ever) until probably like the end of the game, the last goodbyes,” he said.
Since he was five years old, Shawcroft’s dream was to play in the NFL. He woke up at 430 am every day in high school so he could work out before class. Countless practices and workouts over the years were worth it to him because it would pay off in fulfilling the dream.
As the reality that his body may not allow his dream to come to fruition was starting to set in last offseason, Shawcroft struggled mentally.
“It was a big challenge,” he admitted. “It took a lot of talking to people. A lot of reaching out for help. And it helped me just realize the point that as much as I wanted that dream, I have the tools around me, and I have the knowledge around me that I will be successful in whatever I do.”
Once he came to peace with his fate, Shawcroft handled his senior season differently than in past years.
“I realized that maybe playing a full season of football wasn’t meant for me,” he admitted. “A lot of things happen for a reason. It was a successful (season) in my personal goals and my personal mindset. It really helped me grow, and it’s really helped me move on and move past it.”
Shawcroft stopped stressing about how many tackles he had in a game or whether he would be selected First Team All-Conference. He simply wanted to enjoy these last moments with his teammates. When asked what his favorite moment or memory was from his SDSU career, Shawcroft admitted they were all from this past season. He finally let himself have fun.
He recalled specific plays with Jonah and Justus Tavai that were inconsequential to the result of the game but provided the trio of roommates with laughs and joy for one reason or another.
“(I) realized these are the little moments I’m going to miss,” he explained. “Having fun with my brothers out there is what made it successful for me. And I am going to remember those little moments more than any tackle or any play I’ve ever made.”
So what’s next for Shawcroft?
He expects to complete his degree in Kinesiology in May. After that, he is unsure.
“I’m gonna figure it out, but I know that if I put the same effort that I put into football, waking up early, doing all these things, I know I can be successful.”
Shawcroft will lean heavily on SDSU’s academic advisors during the spring semester to set up connections and job interviews. For now, Shawcroft is enjoying the start of the new year without having to think or worry about how his body will endure winter conditioning.
“I took Christmas (and) New Year’s (off) and just kind of relaxed, let my body sleep in. Let me not stress about anything.”
He added reading to his daily regimen, something he says he was unable to do before because the grind of preparing for and playing football was too tiring to allow him to stay awake to read.
“I’m just basically trying to train my mind more than my body now … making sure that I’m good where I’m at mentally, then I’ll just worry about the rest later,” he added.
Now that his playing days are over, there is a compelling notion that Shawcroft is well-suited to become a coach. This past season, several teammates and coaches praised Shawcroft’s football IQ and ability to predict plays before they happen on the field.
While Shawcroft acknowledges that coaching may be something he has an interest in pursuing, at this moment, he is looking for a clean break from football and to explore new things. He notes, however, he has developed connections across football that if that was a path he wanted to pursue in time, the opportunities would be present.
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Regardless of what Shawcroft pursues in life after football, the hometown hero will have a place in the SDSU history books. The grandson of an Aztec Hall of Famer, he led the Aztecs in tackles and earned All-Conference accolades in the school’s historic 100th season. His legacy, though, runs much deeper than his success on the gridiron.
Few can rival Shawcroft’s exceptional grit, work ethic, and perseverance. His story will be an inspiration to every player on the 2023 roster. Long after his days of walking the Halls of Montezuma, coaches, teammates, and athletic trainers will remember the time they spent with Michael Shawcroft with fondness, respect, and gratitude.
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America’s Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.