The 2019 Iron Bowl featured future Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and first-round NFL Draft picks Najee Harris, Jaylen Waddle, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Mac Jones.
But as Auburn entered the red zone trailing by five points with eight minutes to go, a player that few of the 87,451 fans inside Jordan-Hare Stadium could have predicted would soon become the hero. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn lined his team up in wildcat formation, calling for a direct snap to JaTarvious Whitlow – the Tigers' leading rusher – but he was just a decoy.
It would be easy to overlook the 5-foot-7, 186-pound running back who entered the game with just 54 touches, but in this moment, Shaun Shivers made sure his presence was felt. Shivers seized the handoff, and turned the corner with violent intentions. Lowering his shoulder at the five-yard line, Shivers delivered a blow that knocked Xavier McKinney's helmet off as he trucked into the end zone.
"McKinney comes up, one of the best tacklers we have in this conference," CBS announcer Gary Danielson said. "And the smallest Shivers puts the jets on."
Alabama missed a 30-yard field goal with two minutes left, and Auburn ran the clock out, which made Shivers' 11-yard rumble the game-winning score in Auburn's 48-45 victory on Nov. 30, 2019. It's a highlight that embodies Shivers as a running back, and one that defines his approach to the game.
"It's football," Shivers told reporters after the game. "Either be hit, or deliver the hit."
Shivers spent the next two seasons, four in total, at Auburn, where he totaled 201 carries for 1020 yards and eight touchdowns. But as his Tiger career carried on, Shivers saw his role diminish from 70 rushes as a freshman to just 14 as senior. He was utilized as a pass-catching running back for Auburn in 2021, which Shivers said added another tool to his bag, but the desire to be the lead back remained.
"I feel like I run harder than most guys," Shivers said. "I run down hill, I get vertical, I can break tackles. I can do the same things as those guys so why not me? Why can’t I be the featured running back?”
Recognizing the opportunity to win a starting role and learn from running backs coach Craig Johnson, who boasts nearly two decades of NFL coaching experience, Shivers decided to spend his fifth and final year of eligibility at Indiana.
Indiana coach Tom Allen reached out to a number of coaches familiar with Shivers, each of whom first commented on his power, physicality and explosiveness as a runner.
"[Shivers] is not looking for the sideline," Allen said. "He’s looking for somebody to physically run over."
And if his current Hoosier teammates haven't seen Shivers' highlight against Alabama, or any other clips of him bulldozing defenders, he's been kind enough to give them a quick heads up.
"I am going to lay that shoulder down," Shivers said. "I always tell our defense, 'Be ready, because you never know when I'm going to drop you.'"
Allen described the 5-foot-7, 186-pound Shivers as compact, strong and powerful, but Shivers' mentality as a runner is what he loves the most. Allen used the phrase 'Your mindset drives your expectations and beliefs' to describe Shivers, who is deliberate in his goal of running through defenders like a running back seven inches taller and 40 pounds heavier would.
"[Shivers] has probably always been short and undersized and that creates a toughness to him," Allen said. "They have to be mean and nasty in their mindset in order to be able to compete against bigger guys when they were younger. That’s never left [Shivers]. It’s made him who he is."
When he arrived at Indiana, Allen noticed that Shivers quickly infected the Indiana offense with this mentality. Shivers isn't running to pick up a few yards then look for the sideline, he wants to impart a culture that Indiana won't back down from any opponent.
"We're not going to be the nail," Shivers said. "We're going to be the hammer."
Working with new offensive coordinator Walt Bell, Shivers noticed Indiana's need for a running back who can pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield and make defenders miss. Bell has a history of implementing a fast-paced offensive style, which Shivers thinks benefits his game.
"When the defense is tired," Shivers said. "And you have a back that is fast and is going to hit their mouthpiece out every time, that's going to wear the defense out."
With four years of SEC football experience, Shivers has also recognized that, even though he wants to, he can't run over every defender on every play. This offseason, Shivers has placed great emphasis on improving his cutting ability to become more elusive. When Shivers approaches the second level, he's working on making defenders miss then utilizing his speed to break away in the open field.
Shivers said he's looking to score every time he touches the ball, which he knows won't happen, but that doesn't stop his aspirations to become a lead back for the Hoosiers in 2022.
"That's just the mindset I have," Shivers said. "Put the offense on my back, and let's ride."
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