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Jordan Shaw Beginning To Show Why He’s Indiana’s Top-Ranked Freshman

After beginning the year on the scout team, true freshman defensive back Jordan Shaw has been thrust into a major role for Indiana, replacing sixth-year senior Noah Pierre at nickel cornerback. It’s been a learning process, but coaches and teammates see great potential.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Medical staff carted Indiana defensive back Noah Pierre off the field during Rutgers’ opening touchdown drive three weeks ago, taking away a team captain and sixth-year senior.

The Hoosiers would go on to lose 31-14, their third consecutive game of allowing 30-plus points. And to make matters worse for a struggling Indiana defense, coach Tom Allen announced Pierre, one of their most reliable players, would be out for an extended period of time. Indiana stood at 2-5, and Allen could feel the season slipping away.

Without Pierre, Indiana first opted for heavier defensive formations with more ends and outside linebackers, as opposed to defensive backs, to combat Rutgers’ potent run game. But the following week against Penn State, a far more dangerous passing team, Indiana needed someone with pass-coverage skills to step in for Pierre at the Husky, or nickel cornerback, position.

Though coaches earlier thought he might redshirt this season, true freshman Jordan Shaw has grown into Pierre’s role. He was thrown into the fire at No. 10 Penn State but didn’t flinch. Playing the third-most snaps of any Hoosier the following week against Wisconsin, Shaw finished as Indiana’s co-leading tackler. And this week, he’ll be tasked with defending Illinois’ Isaiah Williams – second in the Big Ten in receiving yards – but coaches and teammates believe Shaw is ready for the challenge.

“We had high hopes for him, expectations for him coming out of high school,” Allen said. “And he's proven to be a guy that's going to have a great future here.”

Indiana's Jordan Shaw (23) during pregame warm-ups before the start of the Indiana versus Rutgers football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 21. 2023.

Indiana's Jordan Shaw (23) during pregame warm-ups before the start of the Indiana versus Rutgers football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 21. 2023.

Shaw attended St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy in Downey, Calif., just outside Los Angeles, where he was a dangerous playmaker on offense, defense and special teams. Across his junior and senior seasons, Shaw racked up 16 interceptions, 22 offensive touchdowns, six special teams touchdowns and a pick-six.

He was named Del Ray League Most Valuable Player and won the team’s Coaches Award as a senior. Shaw was one of 100 players nationally selected to play in the 2023 All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, along with current Indiana freshman kicker Nico Radicic.

On Nov. 1, 2022, Shaw, a consensus three-star recruit and top-75 cornerback, announced his commitment to Colorado. But about a month prior, Colorado fired head coach Karl Dorrell, who recruited Shaw to Boulder. In December, Colorado hired Deion Sanders, but Shaw said he didn’t have the same connection with Sanders that he did with Dorrell.

After Sanders’ hiring, Indiana cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby flew to Los Angeles to visit Shaw, who also visited Bloomington in December. Shaw’s father, Russell, played wide receiver at Michigan from 1996-97. Shelby said he built a good relationship with Russell, who holds similar values to him as a coach. Russell’s Big Ten knowledge helped during the recruiting process, too.

And with UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten in 2024, Allen saw an opportunity to expand Indiana’s recruiting reach and attract players like Shaw from California. For Shaw, it was all about his relationship with the coaches.

“I felt like it was deeper than football with the coaches,” Shaw said. “I felt like they really wanted me here. When I took my visit, I was hanging with the players and stuff, and it was just good vibes.”

About a week after Shelby’s trip out west, Shaw committed to Indiana, becoming the Hoosiers’ top-ranked recruit in the class of 2023, per 247 Sports.

Despite his high school accolades, Shaw had to work his way up the Indiana depth chart. Shelby said he always looks for recruits that can make a quick impact, and he never doubted Shaw’s athletic ability. But the transition to college creates a whole new lifestyle with increased responsibilities and distractions, and some players can’t handle that right away. That hasn’t been the case with Shaw, Shelby said.

Pierre saw it early. Though Shaw didn’t leave high school early to join Indiana for spring practice like some freshmen, he immediately stood out in fall camp. Pierre recalls Shaw, listed at a slim 6-foot and 170 pounds, going up against some of Indiana’s veteran receivers such as Donaven McCulley, E.J. Williams and Cam Camper, who are all 6-foot-2 or taller.

“He was really holding his own,” Pierre said. “Coming in as a freshman, that’s hard to do because you don’t really have the experience.”

Following fall camp, Shaw began the season on the scout team. Shelby said initially they figured Shaw would use a redshirt season, which would allow him to learn and grow as a freshman, while still getting four years to contribute on game day. But practice after practice, his natural coverage skills and intelligence caught Shelby’s eye.

Even prior to Pierre’s injury, Allen said, Shaw was a player he continued to notice in practice. Shelby referred to a portion of Indiana’s practice as “good on good” where the first and second-string players go against each other. It gives players like Shaw an opportunity to feel the intensity it takes to play in a real game, and he stood out.

Shaw felt his growth, too, but it was admittedly challenging to not be able to show it on game day.

“It was days I'm like, ‘I don't see nothing happening, like I'm in practice going hard but still not being able to play,” Shaw said. “I was just talking to my parents and coaches and they were just constantly telling me to trust the process. You never know when your number is going to be called, so I was just trying to do everything I could do to prepare myself for the moment.”

Shaw’s moment finally came two weeks ago at Penn State, though he didn’t know he was going to be put in the game. Beaver Stadium is known for being one of the loudest and most difficult road environments for any team. Despite this challenge, Shelby said Shaw responded with a calm, ‘Okay, coach. I got you,” when his number was called.

With the first half clock winding down on 3rd and 4, Shaw lined up at Pierre’s usual spot, defending the Penn State slot receiver. But instead of dropping back in coverage, Shaw blitzed off the edge and knocked Penn State quarterback Drew Allar to the ground as he was flagged for intentional grounding.

Shaw’s first taste of Big Ten football concluded with just six snaps, though he received a team-high 77.1 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF). Indiana defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri said Shaw’s mentality to step up in a big spot and not panic has separated him from other Hoosiers vying for playing time.

“We threw him out in the deep end at Penn State, and he didn’t falter under all that pressure,” Shelby said. “He went out there and had ice water in his veins, and was it perfect? No. Can he get a lot better? He needs to, and this team needs him to get better. But for the most part, he went out there and played confidently, and he wasn’t afraid of the moment.”

"Sometimes guys are just ballplayers, and it’s in his DNA.”

Shaw’s responsibilities continued to increase against Wisconsin. Heading into the game, he watched extra film with Shelby and Pierre, learning the details and nuances of playing the Husky, or nickel cornerback, position. He just started playing the position that week, which added to the challenge.

Shaw said the biggest difference between playing Husky compared to a traditional cornerback position is the opponent. Slot receivers tend to be more agile than tall receivers on the outside, and they also have more space to operate because they can line up off the ball.

The other learning curve Shaw had to work through was understanding the cornerbacks’ and defensive linemen’s responsibilities, as opposed to focusing almost solely on the opposing wide receiver when playing cornerback. He’s also blitzing, and his speed makes him valuable in that role.

Pierre, an experienced veteran, said he’s helped Shaw understand Indiana’s coverages and calls, but also pick up on opponents’ pre-snap clues like formations and where receivers line up, which could hint at the play call.

After a week of absorbing as much information as possible, Shaw’s first major chance came against Wisconsin. His snap count increased from six to 69, which tied for third most on the team. The game brought on a true moment of adversity, though.

Early in the third quarter, Indiana held a 17-7 lead, and Wisconsin faced 3rd and 10 on the Indiana 18-yard line. Shaw lined up in the slot against Will Pauling, who ran straight for about eight yards, then made a quick cut outside and back toward the end zone. Trying to defend the move, Shaw slipped, freeing up Pauling for a wide-open touchdown.

Shelby said he tries to create an environment of chaos during practice, so when inevitable moments of adversity strike, they’re used to it and can move on.

“I want to give him that pressure of doing it right in practice, so that when you get to the game and it’s intense, you’ve already heard it,” Shelby said. “You can’t yell at me no louder, coach. You yelled at me Monday through Friday.”

“The teams that are able to accept [adversity], move on from it, flush it, and move onto the next play, a lot of those teams are successful.”

Following his miscue, Shaw did just that. Clinging to a three-point lead near the midway point of the fourth quarter, Indiana continued to rely on him. On 3rd and 2, Wisconsin desperately needed a first down. Quarterback Braedyn Locke looked near the sideline toward Pauling, who burned Shaw earlier, but the Indiana true freshman cut in front of the route and broke up the pass.

"I just believed in what the coaches taught me,” Shaw said. “I should have made the pick.”

With strong fourth-quarter defense, Indiana held onto a 20-14 win over Wisconsin to keep its season alive. Shaw finished the game as Indiana’s co-leading tackler with nine, along with a key third-down pass breakup and a team-high 84.5 tackling grade, per PFF. It was an important game, not only for Shaw's confidence, but for team morale heading into the final stretch.

"We were turnt for sure," Shaw said after the Wisconsin game. "Big win, everybody was happy. It was good vibes for sure."

Shaw has perhaps an even greater challenge this week against Illinois, whose top playmaker is slot receiver Isaiah Williams. In a 27-26 win over Minnesota last week, Williams scored a game-winning, 46-yard touchdown with less than a minute left. Allen called Williams an elite playmaker, saying they have to know where he is at all times. Williams currently leads the Big Ten with 59 receptions, and he ranks second only to Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. with 693 receiving yards.

Pierre and Shelby said they’ll keep feeding Shaw positive energy but that it’s also important to recognize that Williams will make some plays that Shaw will have to flush and be ready for the next one. Because it’s these kinds of games and matchups that Shaw has worked so hard to experience.

“There’s so many people in the country that would love to be where [Shaw is],” Shelby said. “Hell, there’s some people in our locker room that would love to be where you are, and the reason why you’re out there, number one, is you can do it.”

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