TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Kenny Shaw left Florida State with 124 catches, 1,919 yards, 14 touchdowns, two ACC championships and a 2013 BCS national title.
By any measure, Shaw’s four-year career (2010-13) with the Seminoles’ football team was a resounding success, and he went on to spend three years on NFL practice squads before transitioning into a productive career in the Canadian Football League.
But Shaw also left Florida State a mere 13 hours short of completing his undergraduate degree – a fact that never left the back of his mind, and that was brought to the forefront after a conversation with his grandparents.
“I had my grandparents kind of give me that last little push, like, ‘Hey, you’re going to get this thing before we leave,’” Shaw said, referring to his degree. “And you know, when they say something like that, it’s like you’ve got to go get that thing.”
And so he did.
A little more than a year after that talk, Shaw returned to Florida State, completed his necessary credits and on Saturday morning will walk across the stage at the Tucker Center, shake hands with Florida State President John Trasher, and officially receive his bachelor’s degree in social science.
All with his parents and grandparents watching from the audience.
“As masculine men, we like to keep our emotions intact,” Shaw said with a smile, just moments after finishing his last final exam. “But it might get a little emotional. I think I would get a pass if that is the case. When I see my grandparents, for sure.”
Shaw knows he’ll have earned both the degree and any emotions that come along with it.
Because after making the decision to spend his offseason back in school – he typically prefers the beach after spending so much time in Canada – he returned to Tallahassee and found things were a little different than they used to be.
And even the familiar things didn’t feel so familiar anymore.
Shaw had to learn how to use FSU’s new “Canvas” online portal, which replaced the “Blackboard” system that he was used to.
He had to re-learn how to write papers in the infamous MLA format, something he hadn’t done in more than five years.
And, in perhaps the biggest change of all, he had to adjust to life as a normal student – without the full network of support he had as a full-time student-athlete.
Yes, tutoring was available when needed. And, yes, more than a handful of current FSU students, some eight years’ Shaw’s junior, recognized him. But, otherwise, he was the same as everyone else.
“It’s all on you,” Shaw said. “It’s a different push. You’re pushing yourself instead of, when you’re a student-athlete here, it’s like, ‘OK, come on, we’ve got to do this.’”
It was an adjustment, but one that Shaw, now 27, was happy to embrace.
“As a young buck, you’re worried about ball,” he said. “Let’s be real, you’re worried about the night life. You’re worried about pleasing the coaches. You’re worried about a lot of stuff other than school, sometimes.”
But not this time.
Taking a course load that included Sociology of Education, Anthropology, Bones, Body and Disease, and one particularly difficult Chemistry class (“That was the one I was losing sleep over”), Shaw narrowed his focus on his academics and worked his way through every assignment, paper and test.
It paid off big-time when he received a perfect score on the 10-page paper he wrote for Sociology of Education, along with a glowing word of encouragement from his instructor.
And it paid off when he, in his words, “squeaked out a B” in that chemistry class.
All told, Shaw made quick work of his 13 remaining hours, and, on Saturday, he’ll leave Florida State one more time, this time with what he came for.
“You’re forever linked with this university,” Shaw said. “Whether or not you played sports. Just having this paper, it solidifies it. I’m an alum now. Really. For sure.”
Indeed, when Shaw heads back north for training camp with the Edmonton Eskimos later this month, he’ll do so as a graduate of Florida State University.
The start of camp will begin Shaw’s fifth season in the CFL, having previously played in Toronto, Ottawa and Regina, Saskatchewan.
Living in Canada didn’t always come easily for a guy from Orlando, but Shaw says he’s had some amazing experiences north of the border.
“Once you get used to it, it’s not that different,” he said. “It’s a new view of the world. I tell everybody, if they haven’t been up there, put it on your ‘bucket list.’ …
“You’ve got mountains. I saw a moose. I went to Banff. Vancouver, flying into that place is like that scene in ‘Jurassic Park’ where they’re flying over the water. It’s really like that up there.”
As he progresses through his 20s, Shaw has come to the realization that, although he’s still a football player, he’s not only a football player.
It’s what led him to stop, every once in a while, and enjoy the scenery in Canada. And it’s what led him back to Florida State to finish his degree.
Shaw isn’t sure what’s coming next, but he knows how he wants to approach it.
“You progress as you go through life,” he said. “You just evolve and you find out that you’re more than ball. I call it a different accolade. I was aiming for a different accolade.
“Because when you get all the sports accolades, you can pile them up. But, at the end of the day, I feel like it’s about what character accolades you’ve got. And that’s what carries you in life.”