- By: Austin Lindner
- Published: Dec 16, 2015 11:15AM
When the tip of the cleat dug into his back, at first, he felt nothing. Seconds before, he had been airborne, hands outstretched for a catch during a typical varsity football practice.
But he landed wrong, all of his weight falling onto the defensive back’s foot. And now, trying to get up off the ground, he knew something was wrong.
Shawn’s back was broken.
“It felt like someone had a knife in my back and was twisting,” he said.
The high school football accident ended up fracturing two vertebrae for Shawn Lashbrook, now a senior at Taylor.
Daily life changed quickly for the star wide receiver at Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after the injury. After Shawn was hospitalized for a day, the doctors expected a minimum 10-week recovery, meaning Shawn’s days in the end-zone were most likely over.
“The doctors told me I’d probably never play football again, because I wouldn’t be able to finish senior season and I probably wouldn’t get any scholarships to play in college,” Shawn said.
For most athletes, putting down the football for the last time would be troubling, to say the least. For Shawn, it was devastating.
Born into a family of football-lovers, he had been tossing the pigskin with his sisters since he was a toddler. From his first competitive season in fifth grade to playing wide receiver on his high school’s varsity team, the stepping stones of Shawn’s life always seemed to point toward a college stadium.
“So much of my identity I had placed in performance and football . . . that’s why I valued myself.”
The past few months, he had been fielding offers from a few Division I programs and bigger colleges on the East Coast. Now, just two weeks into his last high school season, everything had changed. He went from promising wide-receiver to slow-moving student, each shift and step inhibited by the knife in his back.
“I was devastated, honestly,” Shawn said. “So much of my identity I had placed in performance and football, and I felt like that’s why people valued me. And that’s why I valued myself.”
He’d spent so much of his life represented by football stats and numbers that Shawn had a difficult time understanding why people cared for him when he didn’t feel important to himself.
Shawn began working with a physical therapist, who strengthened his back and reinforced the idea that his identity surpassed the boundaries of a football field.
It was with this continual caring and prayer that things began to turn around.
After four weeks of recovery, the knife in Shawn’s back suddenly disappeared. When he went in for an x-ray, the doctors couldn’t find his fracture lines.
At the end of just five weeks, Shawn was back on his feet with his shoulder pads on. He rejoined his team for a week of practice without physical contact. Then, the true test: would his back be able to sustain a real tackle?
“My first game back and my first catch, I was really, really hesitant,” Shawn said, "but after I got hit, it kind of just went out of my mind. I was like, ‘All right, I’m okay, I can do this.’”
Shawn rejoined his team for the remainder of the season, ending his senior season on a high note, even making the All-State team. His football stats were back to normal and so was his idea of importance.
But, when it came to college, his All-State recognition was not enough. No scholarships were on the table.
“No schools wanted me. They had already signed all of their guys,” Shawn said.
Shawn’s pastor, Mark Davis, had an idea. Even though Shawn had never heard of Taylor before, Mark took it upon himself to contact the head football coach, Ron Korfmacher, and ask him to get in touch with Shawn.
At first, Shawn resisted.
“Taylor was pretty much the opposite of everything I wanted,” he said.
Shawn had attended Calvary Christian Academy since Kindergarten, and he was hesitant about entering another Christian community for four years. He felt like he needed to branch out, experience different cultures and atmospheres.
He also didn’t want to travel far from home.
“At least not to the cornfields,” he said.
“God was shutting a lot of doors in my life and pretty much making Taylor one of the only open ones.”
Shawn’s first visit to Taylor began as a half-hearted attempt to appease his mother. His parents had been praying and felt strongly that Upland should be his home for the next four years, but Shawn remained unconvinced. The possibility of walking onto a team at a larger secular school seemed promising.
But when he travelled to Taylor’s campus in February of 2012 and met Coach Korfmacher and some of the players, Shawn began to feel drawn to Taylor despite his inhibitions.
“I still didn’t want to come here but I knew that this was a special place. The more I thought about it the more I couldn’t resist knowing I needed to be here,” Shawn said. “God was shutting a lot of doors in my life and pretty much making Taylor one of the only open ones.”
Forget Division I football. Forget big names and broadcasted statistics. Go to the tiny Indiana town and don the purple jersey.
It’s not easy to abandon childhood dreams. After talking to Division I coaches and listening to a constant barrage of praise from peers at home, turning his back on a big school for a small Christian college in the cornfields was difficult. Shawn still felt like he deserved greater things.
“I came in with the idea that I was better than Taylor,” Shawn said.
Self-importance marked his freshman year. The feeling that he deserved more. That he was doing Taylor a service by being here, rather than Taylor helping him.
There was no single event that shifted Shawn’s perspective or forced him to confront his pride. In truth, a handful of interactions, prayers, and realizations throughout freshman year chipped away at Shawn’s ego, with the help of passionate leadership from Coach Korfmacher.
Shawn’s “mask of cool” as wide receiver and football player began to erode, helping him find his real identity underneath—as an individual and man of God.
“There’s always a temptation to look at the stat line. Or if you see your name in the paper, there’s always that pull to say, ‘Yeah, this is why people like me,’ or ‘This is where I should place my importance,’” Shawn said. “But I’ve come to realize that the impact I have investing in people’s lives relationally is more important than anything I could accomplish on the field.”
The desire to build these relationships has shaped Shawn from his freshman self, leading him to pursue the highly relational field of exercise science. Shawn hopes to first work in athletic training, with the possibility of eventually transitioning to physical therapy, due very much to his experience with his back.
“Working with a physical therapist in high school was kind of what inspired me to say, ‘I want to have this kind of impact on other people’s lives,' because I know how important it was for me,” Shawn said.
Shawn’s last four years have been humbling. They’ve broken his pride and shattered his mask. They’ve built the man he is now.
Shawn is a wide receiver but he is not a line on a stat sheet. He is not just another player on a field. He is more.
“I’ve learned how to love people better,” he said. “I’ve learned that everything in my life, every action that I take, it matters, and it has a consequence whether that’s positive or negative. So I want to be doing things with a purpose.”
Shawn finished his Taylor career ranked second in program history for receiving yards. He was named a CoSIDA Academic All-America selection and, for the second year in a row, was a Mid-State Football Association First-Team selection (his third all-MSFA honor).