Written by Ryan Wright
The 2019 season was the first round of the party for AJ Smith-Shawver and the Panthers. The Class of 2021 quarterback took over the reins of Colleyville Heritage High School’s offense leading his team into the fourth round of the Texas 5A playoffs passing for 2,516 yards with 18 touchdowns against just three picks with one rushing score. All that experience gained, plus a physical growth, now 6-3, 205, and a switch from the Spread to an Air Raid scheme, Smith-Shawver has the opposition on notice for the 2020 season.
All that upside mixed with productivity on the field already has the attention of college scouts. Offers from Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word, Furman, and Lafayette have been placed in Smith-Shawver’s hands with teams in the region intently watching.
In an RNG stylized interview partnered with QB Hit List, Smith-Shawver breaks down his talents in the pocket with an update on his growing recruiting process.
AJ, how did the 2019 season go for you on the field?
It went well. We went to the fourth round, and we had good team chemistry; I feel like that is what had us going deep into the playoffs. As a team we had a great bonding experience, we clicked, and we got on a roll. Once a team is rolling, there is nothing that can stop you.”
What style of offense were you running in 2019?
“We were running an Art Briles’ (Baylor) RPO (run-pass option) scheme. We took all the Baylor concepts, put those into our offense with some RPO and we took some shots downfield.”
As mentioned, you guys were airing it out last season and mixing it up. How does the offensive style of the Panthers fit your skills?
“I feel like it fits well. We have a new coach this year. We’ve been on Zoom preparing; we are more of an Air Raid offense this season. Our new coach has brought in Syracuse’s style of offense. That style fits my style perfectly. I am excited to see what happens this year.”
Sticking with last season, what were some of the routes your receivers were running?
“Some of our more successful routes were 15-yard comebacks on the outside, posts, a lot of slants, and 10-yard outs.”
How were defenses trying to stop you? What were some of the coverages you were seeing from 5A defenses?
“They ran a lot of Tampa 2, we saw a lot of man, and a lot of zero and blitzes to try to slow down the passing game and create pressure.”
All that you were seeing and doing, how did your overall game improve?
“What improved the most was my experience. I played some my sophomore year, and took over starting role in 2019. I got better seeing defenses and connecting with my receivers. With that experience, I was better reading coverages, understanding the game more, and I spent more time watching film.”
Being your first season starting at the varsity level, what were the biggest challenges for you as a QB?
“In district we lost to Birdville (32-31) on a field goal. That hurt the team, and we placed third instead of second. We played them in the third round, we played well and beat them (24-17).”
Once the 2019 season was over, what did you feel were the overall strengths to your skills?
“I feel like I have grown into my body; I was a late bloomer. As the season went on, I had more confidence in my game. I am excited to show everyone what I can do now after the long break with the virus.”
This offseason what have you been working on with your technique?
“Focusing on my footwork, trying to get better overall, and having a shorter stride; my ball can miss high if I over-stride. This spring I have been working with receivers about five times a week to prepare for the upcoming season.”
How have you been expanding your understanding of the game this spring?
“By going through film watching our games. We play some of the same teams again this season. I am seeing what I could have done better last year with my footwork, reading, seeing why things happened, and seeing how they disguised coverages.”
Circling back to the change in offense to an Air Raid mentioned a few minutes ago. What will be some of the changes from 2019 to 2020 offense?
“I think we will throw more, we threw a lot last year, but we will replace short runs with short passes. The ball will be in my hands more; I am excited to show what I can do this season with my improvement with my passing. This offense fits me and gives me more opportunities with the football.”
Turning to recruiting, which schools are showing interest?
“I have been talking to Tulsa, Hawaii, Lamar, talked to Missouri State the other day, and Brown.”
How many offers are you holding?
From September of last season into this year, have you taken any unofficial visits?
“Yes, I went to a Tulsa game, a SMU game, and a North Texas game.”
If you will, tell me about the Tulsa visit?
“It went good, it was nice to talk to Coach Beau (Trahan – QB coach). They showed a lot of interest in me and they are really nice. Tulsa was a nice visit and they have a beautiful campus. They have really good fans and great energy at the stadium.”
Once the campuses open up are there any planned trips ahead?
“Yes, sir. I plan to visit Abilene Christian, Furman, Lafayette, and Incarnate Word. Those are the main goals to get on campus there. I have talked to their coaching staffs, they want me up there although it won’t be for another couple of months.”
Quick step inside the classroom. What is your cumulative GPA?
“I have a 3.47 unweighted and a 3.82 weighted GPA.”
Last question. Leadership style is important for all QBs, how would you describe your style?
“I lead by example but I am also a vocal leader. Being a QB, you have to be a vocal leader and the team has to get behind you. If they are not getting behind you, chances are your team is not winning. I stay interconnected with all my teammates making sure all are doing well throughout the season making sure they know they are wanted and making sure they are having fun playing football.”
AJ, thanks for your time today and good luck with the rest of your workouts this summer until we talk again.
Photo credit: Colleyville Heritage HS/Smith Shawver family; AJ Smith Shawver at Tulsa and in the pocket (2019)