From Tragedy to Triumph – The Story of Laviska Shenault

Photo: Getty Images

From the scorching hot days in Dallas, Texas to the cold winters in Boulder, Colorado, standout receiver Laviska Shenault has truly experienced it all. Not only from a football standpoint, but life in general.

The plays that he makes on Saturday's are a huge part to his success, but the little known hobby of loving Sudoku, and generating large portions of self-happiness by helping others in the local community are the areas that mean the most to him.

Everyone sees the explosive plays he generates and how he repeatedly shoulders the load as one of the most high-end weapons in the country, but few know the true story of the meaning behind the Shenault last name and why the signature dreadlocks happily draped over it as he passes swiftly by defenders for touchdowns.

As a member of a family of eight, the household traditions ran aplenty. From video games in the living room to barefoot races on the sizzling Texas asphalt-laden neighborhood streets, every competitive stone was turned over.

Coming from a family of athletes, Laviska's mother, Annie Shenault, played basketball at Dubuque – a small division-III institution located in Iowa. To this day, she still owns single-season school records for points scored (25.4) and rebounds per game (15.2). Both records were set during the 1991-1992 season.

He definitely feels that her record-setting career has helped him become one of the best receivers in the country. Up until high school, playing on the hardwood is where his loyalty lied, and rightfully so after the success of his mother.

His dad. Even mentioning the name Laviska, Sr. makes him tremble and immediately become teary eyed.

July 17, 2009 will be a day that's forever ingrained in the back of his mind. Headed back from a cookout at a family friend's pool party, they all packed in their car, and scurried down the always busy Irving highways.

Becoming tired, his mother needed an aide, which is when tragedy struck. While switching over to the driver's side, his father slipped into the bypass of oncoming traffic. Struck by two cars, he was killed on instant impact. Laviska and his five other siblings all experienced something that many would never be able to recover from.

As a tribute to his fallen father and best friend, he has grown out his signature dreadlocks ever since that tragic day. Pointing to the sky after every exciting touchdown since that scaring moment he experienced at only 10 years old is homage to the figure that essentially taught him the way of life.

Now referred to as "Viska" for short by his peers, little did he know that a life-changing moment would happen at the discretion of his own school and the denial of a first sport that he grew to love. In order to participate on the basketball team, the program gave him an ultimatum to cut his storied dreadlocks. If not, he wouldn't be allowed to play on the team.

Football was an afterthought and the rigorous contact and physical nature of it was something that always made him a bit nervous, but he wanted to participate in a sport of some kind now that basketball wasn't a possibility.

After a lengthy discussion and persuasion from a childhood friend, he finally gave football a try. He wasn't foreign to the game at all, as he played in the backyard with his family, but mostly as a linebacker and running back because he always possessed a mature frame for his age.

Stepping out of his comfort zone, Shenault tried out for the team, but he went out on even more of a limb in participating as a wide receiver. Not having a clue as to what he was doing, he was disappointed to learn that he was placed on the freshman team. Not even good enough to garner placement on the junior varsity team. Doubt began to creep in his mind, but he didn't let the criticism sway him from his end goal and promise of carrying on a lasting legacy of his mother and father's name.

Staying grounded and continuing to compete just like he did in the backyard with his siblings, his hard work, and dedication began to pay off. Moving up to the varsity team as a junior, his success didn't come as a surprise to anyone involved in the program.

A mainstay as receiver, he orchestrated one of the most explosive offenses in the state. So much that, he led the program to a perfect 16-0 record and a victory in the Class 6A state championship. A monumental moment in that it was the first state title in DeSoto High School program history.

Always carrying plenty of motivational weight on his shoulders, Shenault recorded 104 yards on six catches and touchdown in the victory.

Reflecting back on how far he's come was a constant theme and reminder of just how much he's persevered. Now, the next step was college and while he didn't have his father's advice to go by, he still had a strong support system that would allow him to make a logical decision that was best for him.

Choosing Colorado, his first year didn't get off to the start that he anticipated. Playing in all 12 games, Shenault only wound up recording seven catches for 168 yards. In a somewhat identical situation from his trying earlier years at DeSoto High School, his faith through hard work and dedication was once again put to the test.

His patience and work ethic remain unmatched. It resulted in a historic sophomore campaign. Recording 86 catches for 1,011 yards and 11 touchdowns, it was the best season in school history since Paul Richardson's standout junior year (83 catches for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns).

Averaging a nation-leading 9.6 catches per game, he became just the fifth player in program history to garner a first-team All-Pac 12 selection since the school joined the conference in 2011.

Shenault has now positioned himself from a relatively unknown to a superstar in a span of six months.

The process was grueling, but now that you know the meaning behind the flowing dreadlocks and why the Shenault name is stitched tightly on the back of his black, gold, and silver uniform it has more of a significant meaning.

With a repeat performance of his 2018 season, Colorado's best receiver in quite some time, could also turn out to be the school's first opening-round selection since Nate Solder and Jimmy Smith in 2011.

Written By:

Jordan Reid

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Jordan Reid is a Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Gaining experience from various lenses of the game, he has previously served as a college quarterback, position coach, and recruiting coordinator at North Carolina Central University. He now serves as a Color Commentator for FloSports, covering both high school and college football games around the country while also being the host of The Reid Option Podcast.