In the religious collection of sacred scriptures known as the Bible there are many stories. The most famous, of course, is the story of Jesus. In fact, the Bible, though divided into many chapters known as "books", is split into two halves known as the Old Testament and New Testament with the birth of Jesus as the center point -- this is where we get B.C. and A.D. from when we reference historical dates.
There are 66 books of the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. From Jesus' birth on, those 27 New Testament books all focus on his life and teachings. There are some new stories told, stories of Jesus' life and the birth of the first church thereafter, but it all sort of revolves around the one story of Jesus.
In the Old Testament, however, there are many stories -- almost too many to count. The Old Testament starts with the story of where life began, how the universe, the Earth and all within it were created. The following 37 books tell the tale of the human race and their ever-growing -- and many times ever-struggling -- relationship with God.
Within one of the 37 books of the Old Testament, the book of Judges to be specific, comes the story of a man named Samson. Samson was born in a time where God's people, the Israelites, were in captivity by the hands of people called the Philistines. It is written that before this, the people of Israel had turned their back on God's ways, so God allowed them to be captured by their enemies. It was a time when Israel had no ruler of their own, not even a leader to give them hope.
The story began when an angel came to the family of an Israelite named Manoah on God's behalf. He first appeared to Manoah's wife and told her that she would give birth to a son. He told her that this would be no ordinary boy, rather one that would carry the power of the Lord within him -- a power to save his people. The angel gave the woman specific instructions of what to do while pregnant with this boy, such as no drinking wine or eating anything unclean, which was common. But there was another request that was unusual. The angel told her that no razor was to ever touch the head of this boy for as long as he lived, for his hair would be his power.
Manoah and his wife named their son Samson, and as he and his hair grew, so did his strength. Throughout the books of Samson's life, tales are told of his great strength. In one story, Samson tore a lion apart limb from limb when it attacked him. In another, he killed thousands of Philistines with nothing but his bare hands and the old jaw bone of a donkey.
There was no name, no army even, that could stand to the power of Samson.
So long as he kept his hair.
Laviska Shenault and his father were similar in many ways. First and foremost, both loved to have fun. Running around and playing games constantly when Laviska was a kid. And both were very competitive. Whether it was seeing who could do the most push-ups or playing a random sports video game against one another, competition was in their nature; it was in their name.
And when I say their name, I don't just mean the last name "Shenault".
For Laviska Sr. and "junior", their name was part of their bond.
On July 17, 2009, on the way home from a family pool party, Laviska Jr.'s mother, Annie, pulled over to the side of the road to switch spots with Laviska Sr. so he could drive. Laviska Jr. was in the front seat at the time. As Laviska's father walked around the vehicle, he slipped and fell into the busy highway road. He was struck by two cars.
He was killed at the scene.
Laviska Jr. was just 10 years old.
“It all happened so quickly,” Annie said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “It was one of those things you can’t explain.”
"I remember pretty much all of it... I think I did grow up pretty fast after that," Laviska Jr. said.
Shortly after his father's funeral, Laviska made a promise. A promise to honor his father.
Laviska played all kinds of sports, but when it came time to really commit to one, football stood out. Though it took him a while to really get noticed in high school -- growing up just outside of the hot bed of football that is Dallas, Texas makes that extra tough -- once he did, the big boys came calling. By the time he was set to gradate from DeSoto High School, Laviska had offerers from Oklahoma State, UCLA, Arkansas, Arizona State, Mississippi State, Alabama and LSU. But Laviska didn't choose any of those big time schools, frankly because they were too big time. Instead, Laviska committed to Colorado.
“I wanted to go somewhere not on the map already,” Laviska said.
But making it to play DI college football nor choosing Colorado itself was the way he promised to honor his father.
In his first season with the Buffaloes in 2017, Shenault only caught seven passes all year. But those seven passes went for 168 yards and two touchdowns with a 24 yards-per-catch average. After finishing the season just 5-7, the Colorado coaching staff knew they had to do something different on offense, and the player they clearly weren't using enough was Shenault.
So what do you do with a player who is big enough to block, fast enough to beat cornerbacks and strong enough to take on linebackers?
“I came up with, ‘Let’s just play him everywhere,’ Colorado offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said.
And that's exactly what they did.
With Shenault as their offensive focal point, the Colorado Buffs started their 2018 season 5-0. After those five games, Shenault led the nation in receiving yards per game with 141.6, he had scored more touchdowns (10) than any player in the country in five or fewer games, and in his most recent game against Arizona State, he was responsible for all four of the team's touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving. Before getting hurt the following game, Shenault was well on his way to Heisman Trophy contention as the best player in college football.
But becoming one of the best players in college football wasn't the way he promised to honor his father.
You can ask former coaches, friends and even family to describe Laviska and what he's like. You won't have to get very far into the conversation for them to bring up Laviska's dad and how alike the two were.
But that's the thing, you still have to ask.
You can look up Laviska's high school stats, his recruiting profile and even his numbers from his two seasons playing at Colorado. It won't take much of a background check on the man behind the math to find out who he plays for.
But that's the thing, you still have to look it up.
When his father passed away, Laviska Jr. made a promise to honor his father. A promise that people would remember his dad, not just by stories or stats, but just from looking at him -- looking at his son.
That's why Junior has dreadlocks. That's why he hasn't cut his hair since. That's the promise he made.
They're for his dad.
When you see Laviska Jr.'s dreads, an iconic hair style that sets him apart the second you see him, he wants you to remember Laviska Sr.
Just by looking at him.
There are quite a few similarities between the stories of Samson and Shenault. First and foremost both of these men had gifts. For Samson, his gift of strength was obvious, but Samson also had some brains to go with his brawn. In the book of Judges, you can read about how Samson used his wit almost as much as his strength to get the better of his enemies and those who wanted to see him fall. Those who had it out for Samson were blind sided by the fact he wasn't a one trick pony, and that he outsmarted them just as easily as he overpowered them.
In a similar fashion, enter Shenault, who is basically everything for Colorado's offense. When you think you have Shenault bottled up in coverage as a receiver, he'll line up in the backfield and gash you for a big run. When he's lined up in an H-back position set up to make a lead block or be used as a decoy, he'll slip passed the coverage and make a big play in the receiving game.
It was versatility that made the stories of these two men worth telling, as their success leaned on more than just one gift and trait.
As we watch the NFL get more and more creative with how they use rare offensive talents that in previous generations may not have fit into a cookie-cutter offensive system, could Shenault be the next great "gadget" offensive weapons set to his the league in a year or two?
Let's take a look.
Play No. 1: As A Receiver
I guess we should probably talk about Shenault's receiving ability first since he's technically listed as a receiver.
I've used this word more times than I feel like I should have during this little summer scouting series I have going on here, but Shenault is just such a natural. You can tell he's not the most technically sound receiver in the country. He's not going to have his feet exactly in line or won't hit you with the most precise route. But what he does just works.
Two years into his college football career and Shenault's style is very much that of a backyard football player -- thing is, he's the best backyard football player on the block. Shenault's natural speed and quickness give him the chance to create separation on any play. And the strength he has in his hands gives him the ability to both catch through contact and bounce off tackles when accumulating yards after the catch.
If we're looking at this from a scouting perspective, I don't think it would unfair or untrue to say that going into his third year Shenault is still raw for the receiver position when it comes to how to play it at a technical level. But if the results we've seen come from a player who is still raw in his craft, I'll take that all day.
Simply put: line him up inside or out and he'll get it done.
Play No. 2: As a Runner
Most of the time when Shenault was carrying the ball out of the backfield it was from the Wildcat formation. On both short yardage and goal line packages, Shenault was Colorado's go-to weapon to pick up a few yards and either move the sticks or get some points.
The reason why Colorado had this luxury isn't just because of how athletic Shenault is, but also because of how well he sees the field. Shenault's vision is an underrated part of his game. Because of how much experience he has getting the snap in the backfield, Shenault has developed a good eye for finding space within chaos. This has allowed him to be successful in his Wildcat role, and has also enhanced how he sees space down the field or to the sideline.
With good vision as a baseline, then you can start to tap into your athletic ability as a ball carrier.
In the play above, Shenault put speed, strength and vision on display. He first had the speed to beat the pursuit angle outside of the tackle box. Then he had the vision and the agility to put the moves on the incoming defenders. And finally he showed the strength to break through the arm tackle and get past the sticks for a first down.
Play No. 3: Gift of Speed
Flat out: this kid can fly.
Shenault measures in at about 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. He's Chris Godwin-like in terms of the size, strength and speed profile, but I would say that Shenault has even more wheels -- and Godwin ran a 4.42 at the Combine.
It doesn't take much to spring this guy loose down the field. With how well Shenault sees the field, he's a threat to take it to the house on any play, and he certainly did that through the first five weeks of the season in 2018.
Shenault has that home run threat that every team is looking for.
Play No. 4: Gift of Strength
On tape, Shenault looks like he's one of the smaller guys out there. Not that he's tiny, but he just doesn't pop out as physically imposing on tape. But, my goodness, plays like the one above remind you real quick how much power this kid has.
Even if we want to round up and say he weighs about 220 pounds, Shenault is visibly strong on tape for whatever his size is. His strength helps him accomplish a multitude of things. It helps him stay balanced through contact, it helps him squeeze that ball when plucking it through the air, and oh yeah, it also lends itself to straight up laying defenders out, as shown above.
Once he gets moving, he's like a locomotive to bring down -- you better bring more than one player or you're screwed on that first tackle attempt. Shenault's type of functional strength reminds me of that of Alvin Kamara. Both players weren't huge in size, but they pack a punch at contact and are both downright difficult to bring down. You can make a good living in the NFL with that as a trait.
Play No. 5: Only One 'Viska
There was no other player in college football who was putting up the numbers Laviska Shenault was through the first five games of last season -- as a runner, receiver, special teams player, you name it -- and that's because there was no other player in college football who was doing what he was doing.
How many other players in college football will you find who can stop on a dime, take a full-body tackle, bounce off it with no hesitation and nearly take a pass that should've been stopped at the catch point for what was one shirt tail away from touchdown?
If you asked most people, religious or not, why Samson was what he was, most would simply mention his strength. They'd marvel at the stories and accounts of Samson's power, but the reality was he was so much more.
So is Laviska.
There's one more similarity that joins these two legends together. That, of course, is their long hair.
If you were to again ask people why Samson was so strong, most out tell you that it was his hair that was the source of his strength. It was, but it wasn't. Samson's hair was merely what God used to empower him, to flow through him. The hair was never the source of what he was able to do. It was a symbol, a way to set him apart. The source of his gifts came from something greater.
For Laviska Shenault, his dreadlocks aren't the source of his abilities. They are but a symbol, a way of setting him apart.
The source of what he's done and what he'll continue to do comes from something greater.
They come from the motivation in memory of his father.
As long as he has that, hair or no hair, he'll be capable of doing things others simply can't.