The do-everything Buffaloes receiver is making superhuman plays for undefeated Colorado
Out-of-this-world might be a fair way to describe Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.'s play through five games in the 2018 season. Take it from Buffaloes radio play-by-play broadcaster Mark Johnson, who said following Shenault's second touchdown on Oct. 6 against Arizona State: "I don't know what planet he's from, but it's not this one."
No, Shenault's not a product of a new Krypton recruiting pipeline — unless DeSoto, Texas, recently relocated beyond the stars. What's more, if Shenault was a larger-than-life comic book character, he'd be one of two with earthly origins.
"Either Incredible Hulk or Dr. Strange," said Shenault. "Incredible Hulk’s extra strong, can barely be stopped, and Dr. Strange can pretty much do anything."
Two unintentionally fitting descriptions for Shenault's play, to be sure. His strength at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds overwhelms opposing defenses.
"We could not tackle him," Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards said in his postgame press conference. "We had him a couple of times — even in the first series they threw him a little screen and we had him but all of a sudden we didn’t have him. He broke the tackle and kept running."
Trucking over white-and-maroon-clad, would-be tacklers to the tune of four touchdowns last week showed the Incredible Hulk side of Shenault. The way in which the jack-of-all-trades receiver's employed in Colorado's scheme is the Dr. Strange side.
His versatility allows Shenault to do pretty much anything asked of him, which head coach Mike MacIntyre said earlier this season motivated offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini to move the wide receiver to different positions.
"You have to make sure that you know where he is," said UCLA head coach Chip Kelly in his press conference following the Buffs' 38-16 win on Sept. 28. "They have him lined up in Wildcat and they move him around. He plays inside and outside receiver, so they do a good job on how they disperse him."
Shenault's four touchdowns against Arizona State — two receiving, two rushing — bring him to 10 on the season. That's good for seventh in all-purpose scores in college football. He also ranks 11th in all-purpose yards per game at a whisper below 150. Put it together, and the result is Colorado's best start since 1998. Shenault's play individually has some buzzing about Colorado's first potential Heisman Trophy since 1994 when the late Rashaan Salaam brought the award back to Boulder.
The last Buff to win heisman was in 94’ð 2 is on his way— Jordan Carrell (@jordan69carrell) October 6, 2018
Colorado's Man of Steel has indeed mounted an early case to hoist college football's Man of Bronze. Like any good origin story, Shenault's meteoric rise isn't without challenges.
He arrived at Colorado into a deep rotation of wide receivers. The 2017 Buffs featured seniors Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross, a trio of vital contributors to Colorado's Pac-12 Championship Game run the season prior; as well as returning contributors Jay MacIntyre and Juwann Winfree. Add outstanding pass-catching running back Phillip Lindsay to the mix, and there weren't a whole lot of touches to go around.
Still, flashes of what to expect emanated in his team-high 24-yard per catch average.
"Definitely was itching last year [to contribute]," Shenault said. "I didn’t know I was going to be doing this good, but I was definitely planning on catching more balls than I did last year."
That process got started immediately. In fact, Shenault caught 11 passes for 211 yards in a Week 1 rout of rival Colorado State.
MacIntyre said after a Week 2 performance in which Shenault caught another 10 passes for 177 yards, including a game-winning touchdown: "I don't know if he'll have one like that every week, of course, but I expect he'll have a handful more like that before the year's over."
Well, in the three games since, he's already produced that handful. Shenault has more receptions in four of the Buffs' five contests than he made in his entire freshman season. He's also scored at least one receiving touchdown each time out after having not reached the end zone a year ago.
But while the sophomore has shined as a pass catcher — whether out wide, in the slot or even playing tight end — Shenault finds a new role most exciting.
"I like every position, but I’d say the Wildcat," he said of his favorite place to line up. "Every time I do get in the Wildcat, I’m trying to pick up something serious."
It's worked. In five carries as a Wildcat running back this season, Shenault has four touchdowns. The one carry that didn't go for a score converted a 4th-and-2 into a first down late in the Week 2 win at rival Nebraska.
"I like [Wildcat] the most because the coaches are putting their trust in me," Shenault explained.
That he's entrusted as a ball carrier in high-pressure situations speaks to the DeSoto product's growth as a player. Shenault said he played running back (as well as outside linebacker) during his youth football days in Texas.
Once he reached high school, however, he made the move to wide receiver after just a single rush.
"Before the season started in scrimmage, I got one running back play. There was nowhere to run the ball," he said, adding with a laugh, "I guess coach didn’t like what I did."
In that same vein, the only offensive phase in which Shenault's yet to contribute to the Colorado offense is as a passer. Perhaps lining up behind center as he does will present the possibility. He's already shown so many proverbial superpowers as part of his game — one of which, and maybe the most defining, as described by MacIntyre," is that, "He's fearless."
That's not entirely the case: Shenault admitted that in youth football, he was asked to play quarterback but, "was too scared." But that's a pretty minor Kryptonite for a player whose season has been downright extraterrestrial.