April 4, 2012

JuCo lineman added to Cats future

"I thought I would never play football again," reflected Elijah Shuler.

Years removed from a potentially career-ending injury the mature, thoughtful defensive lineman from Connecticut committed to University of Cincinnati Wednesday. The same day he was supposed to be visiting University of South Alabama.

Instead of visiting South Alabama Shuler closed his recruitment after consulting his family in Connecticut.

"I didn't take (a visit to South Alabama)," said Shuler. "I was going on a trip to Auburn on April 14th so I decided to go with Cincinnati. I took a few days. I am back home in Connecticut right now. I discussed it with my family."

As he watched Cincinnati scrimmage Saturday Shuler eagerly took photos with his iPad. Photos of the Lindner Center, photos of the locker room, photos of the players. He was clearly enamored.

"I was excited," said Shuler. "I was very excited to be there. Cincinnati is a very prestigious school. All my friends and supporters liked it."

Shuler represents the first Assistant Coach Shannon Morrison recruit to join the Bearcats.

Coach Morrison just recently signed on to the Bearcats himself, recruited from University of Memphis.

I told Coach Morrison. He was the coach recruiting me, so I called him first. He was excited.

Almost the end

Flash back to 2009.

"My freshman year at Mount Ida," said Shuler. "I ruptured my right ACL in my knee and partially tore to my meniscus."

The recovery process lasted longer than he hoped.

"Actually it was really tough," said Shuler. "I had a girlfriend at the time. I called her today and talked about it. It was a time I thought maybe I could never play football again."

Formalizing such fateful thoughts can be thoroughly depressing. Every athlete knows deep down the sport is not forever. But they constantly supress those thoughts, play without fear.

"I always felt good playing football but after the injury I always hurt," remembers Shuler. "When I first started working out I was really tired. I had no muscle definition in my leg, my right leg."

In the intervening years Shuler has beefed up to 255 pounds. No longer a running back/linebacker Shuler thrives in the three point stance.

He expects to play around 265 at DE.

This fall he collected ten tackles in seven games, one TFL. Pierce finished 3-7.

Host

Cincinnati astutely placed Elijah Shuler with two-year starter DE Walter Stewart over the weekend.

"He is a real humble guy, has a similar persinality to my self," recollects Shuler. "He told me how (DL) Coach (Steve) Strip was. The whole feeling from the team made me comfortable."

Shuler will appreciate his opportunity even more than freshmen because he was faced with the very real possibility of 'The End.'

And then he needed two years of junior college success just to return to the top level. His story resembles fellow California JuCo star, Aaron Harris.

"It makes it feel, not coming out of high school, makes it even more enjoyable," said Shuler. "Maybe out of high school I wouldn't have worked so hard."

Tunnel of success

Cincinnati also signed WR Damon Julian and Isaiah Vaughn from Pierce College last season. Though Vaughn is no longer with the team Julian is fighting for playing time in this upcoming season. It will be his last college try.

Transferring from a junior college gives players an added incentive to play early.

"Playing right away," said Shuler. "I am supposed to be coming in and play. I am already a junior coming out of JuCo. I am pretty much coming in ready to play."

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