Mack Brown is such a gifted salesman that it’s been said he can sell ice cubes to an Eskimo. Still, it was the Hall of Fame coach’s actions rather than his words that helped him pull off the biggest recruiting victory of his second tenure at North Carolina.
Although it took the entire summer for five-star defensive tackle Travis Shaw to officially commit to Brown’s Tar Heels, the deal was sealed back in May on the day he underwent surgery to repair a shoulder injury suffered in Grimsley’s 4A state championship victory against Cardinal Gibbons.
“It was the unconditional love,” Shaw said Saturday after announcing his college decision at his Greensboro high school. “Every time I stepped on campus, no matter what, it was love.
“When I got hurt, every school knew I got hurt. But (Brown and his staff) were the only ones to check up on me the day of the surgery. That right there set them apart. The love that they showed, it never changed since Day 1.”
Ranked No. 3 nationally by Rivals and No. 5 by 247 Sports, Shaw is the highest-rated recruit to commit to UNC since national player of the year Ronald Curry in 1997. He is also the second five-star to commit to the Tar Heels in as many years, following the lead of current defensive back Tony Grimes.
More significantly, his decision to choose UNC over national powers Clemson and Georgia — two of his three other finalist schools — has helped solidify the stature Brown’s program has continued to gain since his return to Chapel Hill in 2019.
“With the players they already have, they could be special,” Shaw said of the Tar Heels. “With the class we have coming in, I’ll say we’re definitely contenders for sure. We have some ballplayers coming in and I will say we’re not done yet.”
Shaw is the 13th player to commit to the Tar Heels during the current recruiting cycle. Now that he’s in the fold, he said he plans to help recruit other players to join him in Carolina blue.
His pitch to other rising young stars will be simple.
“Mack Brown,” he said. “That’s all you have to say.”
Shaw recorded 85 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions in 10 games as a junior this spring while leading Grimsley to an undefeated record and a state championship during the COVID-delayed and shortened 2020 season. He has amassed 240 tackles, 17 sacks and five forced fumbles while also scoring three touchdowns as a short-yardage fullback in his three-year prep career.
Although he is listed as a defensive tackle, he has the agility and quickness to play outside as well. At his commitment ceremony Saturday, Shaw described himself as a “dog.”
“A dog on the field is just a relentless player, one who doesn’t care, one who is just going to make a play anytime his team needs it,” he said. “When the team needs the ball back, a dog is going to go get it. Whenever a team needs a big play, the dog is going to be the one to make it happen. I label myself a dog because whenever we need a big play, I’m going to go make it happen.”
For all that aggression between the lines, Shaw also showed a sensitive side at his commitment ceremony before triumphantly putting on a UNC hat Saturday.
Sitting next to his mother, Catina White, and surrounded by a large group of supporters, he fought back tears as he talked about the love and support his family has provided throughout his career.
“Even the biggest dog has feelings,” he said. “It wasn’t intentional to let those tears come down. Being as big as I am I hate to see myself cry, (but) it’s an emotional time for the position I’m in.”
Shaw isn’t the only one that got emotional over his decision to play for the Tar Heels.
His future coach did too.
“The moment I told him, he started crying,” Shaw said of Brown. “Just right there alone, that set it apart. When I told him I was staying home and I believed in him, he started crying. He can’t wait for me to get back on campus. He can’t wait to get the ball rolling.”