Brother Rice’s Willie Shaw ready to sparkle in state title game rematch

Speedy running back Willie Shaw has become the key cog in Crusaders’ offense.

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Brother Rice’s Willie Shaw (26) finds an opening in Hillcrest’s defense.

Brother Rice’s Willie Shaw (26) finds an opening in Hillcrest’s defense.

Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

Brother Rice’s Willie Shaw has plenty of obvious reasons to play well Saturday at Loyola.

Then the featured back on the Crusaders sophomore team, he watchedlast year as the teams split two games. Rice rolled 35-3 in the regular season and Loyola turned the tablesto win 13-3 in the Class 8A championship game.

And even after the Catholic League and East Suburban Catholic Conference merger and resulting realignment, these two rivalsare still league rivals.

“Me personally, I can’t wait,” Shaw said after practice this week. “Freshman year, we played them last game of the season and I went out early in that game. I ending up breaking and dislocating my ankle.

“This game means a lot to me.”

Watching Shaw now, there’s no hint he was once hobbled by that injury.

“Once he gets into the open field, no one’s going to catch him,” Brother Rice coach Brian Badke said.

That was apparent in the Crusaders’ loss to Providence, when Shaw turned a screen pass into a 75-yard touchdown reception, He also had a 78-yard TD run in that game.

And along with the speed, Shaw — at 5-11, 180 pounds — has the power to gain yards inside as well.

“He’s worked really hard in the weight room and taken care of his body,” Badke said. “We’ve talked about that, ‘You’ve got to stay hydrated, make sure you get enough sleep, eat right.’ ... He’s really taken that responsibility.”

“He’s worked really hard in the weight room and taken care of his body,” Badke said. “We’ve talked about that, ‘You’ve got to stay hydrated, make sure you get enough sleep, eat right.’ ... He’s really taken that responsibility.”

It’s translated into receiving four Power Five offers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Virginia -- not a bad start to recruiting for a player who hadn’t played a varsity game before this season.

The first offer, from Illinois, caught Shaw off guard.

“When we came home from that camp, I was talking to my father about it and he said I did all right,” Shaw said. “I thought I did OK too, but not good enough (to get an offer). Once they called, it shocked me a lot.”

Shaw was supposed to visit Notre Dame last weekend. But he had to cancel when the Crusaders’ game against Joliet Catholic was pushed to Saturday because of bad weather. He took the situation in stride and hopes to reschedule a visit to South Bend.

Right now, he’s just trying to ride the wave of recruiting, with an eye to committing before his senior season.

“It’s a lot to take in,” Shaw said. “Coming home from practice and having to do homework and you’ve got to call this person and that.”

As for the prospect of playing before tens of thousands of fans and a TV audience?

“It’s kind of crazy to think about it,” Shaw said. “Like, a dream can turn into a reality, just like that.”

All that isn’t Shaw’s focus though. His mind is on helping a Rice offense with 11 new starters find its footing as the Crusaders try to gear up for another long playoff run.

Badke likes the way Rice has been able to mix things up offensively. But it’s no secret that getting the ball in Shaw’s hands is the key to the Crusaders’ success.

“He’s really at a point where we’ve just got to give him the ball more,” Badke said.

That starts this weekend.

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