TE Shaheen more than a big guy who can run: ‘He’s mean, too’

Adam Shaheen was a surprise second-round pick by the Bears, but all it takes is one clip of an Ashland highlight tape to see why NFL teams were so intrigued by the 6-6, 278-pound tight end. He’s big. He’s fast. He’s athletic. But those aren’t the only reasons why Shaheen dominated his Division-II conference.

“He’s mean, too,” said Kyle Nystrom, the defensive coordinator at Ferris State last season and current Northern Michigan coach. “I saw him throw a kid through the back of the bushes behind the end zone at Ashland.

“He’s huge. They flex him out as a wideout, and he just swats DBs like they’re kindergartners. I saw him grab one kid by the head and throw him into the dirt. He would just be running over dudes. These DBs, they’re half as big as him. He’d either run by you because he can — he’s that fast — or he’d knock you into next week and just swat you around like you’re a bug. I almost threw up trying to deal with him.”

Shaheen wasn’t just picking on Division-II weaklings. He had 10 receptions for 152 yards and a 70-yard touchdown in a 39-31 upset against Ferris State, which went 12-3 and reached the Division-II semifinals. Nystrom put his best defender on Shaheen — Brady Sheldon, a 6-5, 220-pound linebacker who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds and signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent.

Tight end Adam Shaheen of Ashland University, the Bears' second-round draft pick, scored 16 touchdowns last season —
a Division II record for most touchdown catches by a tight end. (Ashland University athletics)

“We kept [Shaheen] bottled up in the first half,” Nystrom said. “I give him credit. Usually guys like that get frustrated and start getting stupid. He didn’t. He kept his poise and waited for the second-half adjustments.

“He turned a three-yard route into a 70-yard touchdown. Our kid [Sheldon] could run. But he couldn’t keep up with the guy. Once he got by him, nobody else wanted to tackle the guy. You get that 6-6 moving full bore, at [4.79], some guys don’t want to get in the way of that. It’s like a runaway train.”

Tales like that are not uncommon from coaches who had to defend one of the most unusual offensive threats ever in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Shaheen was the ultimate matchup nightmare.

“He was by far the best Division-II player I’ve ever seen,” said Findlay defensive coordinator Jason Makrinos. “He did stuff that tight ends don’t do. Only the really good ones that you see in the [NFL] do the things he does.”

“He had nothing against contact,” said former Wayne State defensive coordinator Brad Wilson, now at Indiana State. “He would punish you if you tried to [get physical]. You had a decision to make: You could either try to hit him high and take the full brunt of it, or try to go low on the kid where there was a good chance he was going to jump over you — and keep running.”

That’s exactly what Shaheen did in a 40-14 victory over Michigan Tech in 2015. “A third down,” coach Steve Olson recalled. “He caught a ball over the middle on a shallow crossing route and hurdled one of our players and rolled up the sideline. It’s his competitive edge that I think is so key. His desire to catch the football when the ball is in the air is so impressive. Not only when the football is in the air, but his desire to create first downs and when the game is on the line, you can see his motivation, his fire.”

Therein lies the key to the biggest question facing Shaheen as he makes the transition from the GLIAC to the NFL. His size, speed and athleticism are only a start. To those who have had to defend Shaheen, it’s his competitiveness, his mean streak, his perseverance and his knack for winning one-on-one battles that provide the best evidence he can make the jump.

“He has a very good football IQ,” said Northwood defensive coordinator Malen Luke. “On one play — a short route inside the 10 — our linebacker couldn’t have covered him any better. But he just boxed him out like a basketball player on a rebound. It was questionable pass interference, but it wasn’t called. He had him covered, but he was able to shield him, which was smart on his part.”

“He’s as good as any player I’ve seen at any level of using his body and his hand to shield defenders from the ball,” said Tiffin defensive coordinator Matt Edwards. “He has tremendous ball skills. I think he’ll be a great NFL player because he’s smart. He attacks the football as well as anybody at any level at the position.”

And not to be understated, Shaheen seems to have the right temperament.

“I loved watching the kid play when I wasn’t playing him,” Wilson said, “because he seemed like an extremely humble kid who just loved playing the game of football.

“I remember talking to some of our guys after the game. We were winning at halftime, and he got loose on us in the second half and made some plays. I asked our guys — because you always want to know about big-time players — are they talkers or this or that. And our guys said, ‘Coach, he didn’t say a word. He just played.’ ”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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