Dear NFL General Managers,
Up until now, playing football has always been a game. Winning and competing have been the things that have motivated me to fight through pain, injury and adversity. The most important thing in my life, however, has always been my family.
My mother, my sisters and my brothers are mine. And I do not take one single day I have with them for granted, as I have seen how quickly and unexpectedly a loved one can be taken away. At the age of 10 I saw my father get run over by a truck. His abrupt departure from my life strengthened the bond between my family and me.
I know for a fact that if my father had been able to watch my football career develop, he would have been sitting right next to my mother (who has only missed a handful of games from little league to college) in the stands. And just like my mom, he would have supported me, prayed for my protection on the field, and encouraged me to compete with everything I have — to play through pain and outwork my opponents. Although I could not literally hear his encouraging words when I was forced to deal with some injuries during the 2019 season, I knew that he was with me, and I knew that I had played through pain before.
Playing through pain is nothing new to me.
Growing up in DeSoto, Texas, playing hurt was just part of the game — one we called Sideline Kill.
Yup … SIDELINE KILL.
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As a kid, all I ever wanted to do was play some Sideline Kill. I never wanted to miss a chance to compete — to make someone miss, or to juke someone out of his shoes, or to lay someone out along the edge of the grass with a form tackle. The game was played out on the street in front of my house. And it wasn’t complicated. You divided up into two teams, and it was just a regular game of two-hand touch — when you were in the street. But when a player with the football got near the side of the street where the grass started, you could hit him. The idea was that players would be tackled into the grass, so it’d be no big deal.
But that was just the idea of it. Sometimes … things happened.
Everyone in my neighborhood played that game like our lives depended on it, even the little kids. Some of the fiercest hits I’ve ever seen, taken, and delivered were in Sideline Kill. It was common for kids to limp on home and not come back around for a few days.
I remember this one time I got tackled right into a pole that was sticking out along the sidewalk. It had this sharp piece of metal attached at the bottom, and it caught me right in the leg. It was one of those cuts where it was so deep that the white meat was showing. You know what I mean? I still have the scar.
And, as you can see from the clips below, there’s no doubt that the skills I gained playing Sideline Kill are now part of my game.
Sideline Kill definitely gave me a real lesson in toughness, and in how to play with pain, which I had no clue at the time would be so necessary to playing college football, and I can assume is absolutely necessary to playing wide receiver in the National Football League.
But to be honest with you, it’s been funny for me to see my name on all these rankings lists of receivers that people come out with before the draft — to be a guy listed only as a “WR,” and be put in that one specific box and categorized like that. Because, to me….
I’m a football player.
I mean, yes, I line up at receiver a lot. And I catch a ton of passes. And I definitely pride myself on my route-running and receiving skills. But more than anything else, at the end of the day, I’m a football player.
I’m someone who fights for everything out on the football field and who … does NOT like to get tackled.
Before high school I was pretty much everything but a receiver.
In Pop Warner I played running back. Then it was outside linebacker. When I got to high school and made the JV team, they actually had me out there at tight end. I’m lining up with my hand in the dirt, blocking defensive ends, the whole deal. I laugh about it now, but man, back then … I took it real serious. I saw it as challenge. I was going up against guys who were like 6′ 4″, 240 pounds. And I played in an area with some of the best high school football teams in the nation, so lots of these guys ended up being big-time D-I recruits as defensive ends.
But for me it was like, O.K., Coach asked me to do this. He’s trusting me to make these blocks and keep our quarterback clean. Let’s go!
And, I kid you not, if you go and look at the film from back then? I dominated those guys.
I was not messing around.
Back then, I basically learned how to block bigger guys by necessity. It was either that or get run over.
Once my coaches saw that I could hold my own, and realized that I could adapt to new positions, all of a sudden the floodgates opened and they were using me all over the field.
Then I got to Colorado … and it was on.
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
Out wide? In the slot? Wildcat QB? H-back?
Whatever you say.
I’m catching passes like crazy, but at the same time I’m also out there blocking defensive ends, or pulling around the end and picking up linebackers. I’m in the trenches.
And then, of course, I’m making sure that when my number got called, it’s like….
But you know what? Even there, you can see the former linebacker in me showing out — the little kid back home playing Sideline Kill.
When it’s time for a contested catch, or if I have the ball in my hands and need to make a few guys miss, you better believe it reminds me of those games as a kid. Something about how I play, something inside me, just flashes back and is like….
You need to dominate right now. Go up and get that ball. Don’t go down. Juke those dudes and take it to the house.
Now, I know you guys love NFL player comps, so I sat down and thought about that for a bit today. What I realized was that it’s hard to pick just one guy whose game is like mine. I feel like I’m a combination of three different receivers — Jarvis Landry, Julio Jones and Larry Fitzgerald.
Jarvis I love because he has a ton of dog in him, you know what I mean? He plays with that dog mentality. Every time he’s out there his whole mindset is, I’m going to outwork you and outphysical you to the point where I’m going to dominate. And you can totally see that in how he runs his routes, or even just how he walks onto the field. I definitely feel like I have that same dog mentality. So that’s the first third of my comp.
Then, Julio Jones! I mean, what can I say? That guy’s run after the catch is just unreal. He breaks tackles like … I don’t know, he just makes it look easy. And add to that how strong his hands are, and how he’s able to catch the ball on the sidelines, and it’s just almost like the ideal wide receiver you’d create in a lab or something. So he’d be my second comp.
For the last one, the capper, I’m going with Larry Fitzgerald. He’s my guy because that dude is all business. And literally everyone knows it. He’s not fooling around. You’re going to get 100% out of him on every play, no matter what. Everything he does is real serious. And that’s something I want to be known for when I get into the league. I want to have the same sort of reputation that Larry Fitz has.
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
So that’s what you’re gonna be getting if you draft me.
I’m basically that same kid from DeSoto who never wanted to be tackled in the front yard. The player who has always been ready to go up against anyone, anytime, no matter how big. But I’m also someone who is going to work his butt off to be a combination of Jarvis, Julio and Larry once he gets to the league.
I can promise you that no one’s gonna outwork me on the practice field. And no one’s gonna want it more than I do when it’s crunch time and you need a big play.
The NFL is a lot different from Sideline Kill. But if you’re looking for a tough player who takes pride in his route-running, knows how to make contested catches, can run after the catch, and break tackles, and play through pain, and who will physically and willingly block any defender … I would love to be part of your team.
If you draft me, you will add a great person and student of the game who has scored from multiple positions on the field, and I will represent your organization with the same pride and respect that represent the values taught to me by my late father — Laviska Shenault, Sr.
Laviska Shenault, Jr.