TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban again put together the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, a group that includes five five-star athletes and a whopping 19 members of the ESPN 300.
But the Crimson Tide landed one more recruit Wednesday than the 27 they counted as official signees: Elisha Shaw, a former standout prospect who saw his playing career end before the start of his senior season in high school.
On signing day, Shaw sat among 15 of his classmates as they signed their national letters of intent. Shaw, however, did not do the same. He "signed" with Alabama without actually putting pen to paper.
It's part of a commitment Saban made ensuring that Shaw would receive a scholarship at Alabama under a medical exemption.
The paperwork is not finished, according to a university source, but it should be done soon, allowing Shaw to fulfill his dream of getting a college education and being a part of the Crimson Tide even though he won't play for the team.
Shaw, when reached via text message Thursday morning, said it was "great" when he committed on Wednesday to Alabama, the first school to offer him as a junior in 2012. He'll be on a "medical" scholarship, he said, and he hopes to work on the field as a coach or volunteer assistant.
The former 296-pound defensive tackle had a slew of scholarship offers as a junior at Tucker High in Atlanta. Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and a number of other top Division I programs were interested, but after he suffered a serious neck injury on the second day of summer practice last year, interest dried up.
"I would be hard pressed to find a better defensive tackle than him in the country before his injury," Tucker coach Bryan Lamar said. "He had a high motor and could run like a linebacker. He had a great work ethic and was dominant on the field.
The strained ligaments in his neck will never heal, according to Lamar, and he'll need surgery "down the road."
"One thing about him is that he has a great personality," Lamar said. "He always has a smile on his face. When he got injured, he was optimistic. Reality came and he wasn't going to be able to play, and we talked about moving forward. With him, in a couple of days he was back to having a good time and encouraging his teammates."
Lamar was quick to point out that Shaw will not have a "football scholarship" at Alabama, meaning he won't count among the athletes Alabama has signed. When reached Thursday, Lamar said he had an unopened email from the SEC in his inbox to return that would further the progress toward Shaw's scholarship.
When asked when he would enroll, Shaw texted, "I don't know."
"If he takes advantage of the situation and goes down there and learns ... he's got a chance to be around one of the best staffs in America and to be around Coach Saban and understand how to be professional and do things the right things," Lamar said. "With Elisha's charisma and his knowledge of the game, if he puts it all together, he'll be ultra successful as a coach one day. He has one of those personalities and the passion for the game to have a great career if he takes advantage of his opportunity."
Alabama isn't the first program to follow through on the promise of a scholarship to an athlete who was no longer able to play the game. Cedric Collins (Skyline High/Dallas) will never play again after experiencing numbness in his legs after a hit in 2012, according to The Dallas Morning News, but Texas A&M nonetheless awarded him a scholarship.
NCAA bylaw 188.8.131.52 states that, "If an incapacitating injury or illness occurs prior to a prospective student-athlete's or a student-athlete's participation in athletically related activities and results in the student-athlete's inability to compete ever again, the student-athlete shall not be counted within the institution's maximum financial aid award limitations for the current, as well as later academic years."
Bylaw 184.108.40.206.2 does account for a change in circumstance: "If circumstances change and the student-athlete subsequently practices or competes at the institution at which the incapacitating injury or illness occurred, the student-athlete again shall become a counter, and the institution shall be required to count that financial aid under the limitations of this bylaw in the sport in question during each academic year in which the financial aid was received."