When you look into LaVant Shaw’s eyes, you will see equal parts pain and equal parts determination.
The soft-spoken, soon-to-be Owatonna High School freshman has been forced to overcome more obstacles and process more emotions than any 14-year-old should ever have to. But that’s just it, he’s done it. He’s overcome the conflict from within and, with the help of Owatonna’s branch of the REACH program, has found a number of healthy outlets to help process what he’s endured.
One of them just-so happens to be football.
“It helps,” Shaw said outside the high school weight room on Tuesday morning. “I don’t really have to think about anything else when I’m playing football.”
Shaw is one a number of students that joined the REACH program at the middle school when it was first implemented in the fall of 2018. The program, which hosts an annual football camp in late June sponsored by former Minnesota Viking Chad Greenway, is headquartered in Hutchinson and was created for OMS students in need of additional support academically, socially, and/or emotionally. There are two sections of sixth graders, two of seventh graders and two of eighth graders. It is an elective class — although middle school staff members will suggest to certain students it may be in their interest — and Carol Belmore works as the REACH social worker.
According to Belmore, Shaw embodies the qualities that the program sets out to instill, relationships, education, accountability, character and hard work, which is especially remarkable considering what he’s experienced in the last three months. Having already displayed great progress since joining the REACH program — Shaw was recently named to the eighth-grade honor roll — his world was turned upside down in May when his father, just 36-years-old, suffered a massive heart attack and passed away in Rochester.
Initially numb to the world and pulling from strength he probably didn’t even know he possessed, Shaw said he underwent a gradual grieving process that reached its peak when “they put him in the ground.”
“That’s what I remember the most,” Shaw said of the burial. “It was at that point that I realized he wouldn’t want me sad all day and just sitting around. It was hard but I know I needed to move on.”
Aside from finishing the year strong in the classroom, Shaw has dedicated himself to staying in shape for football and track. He lifts weights at least five times a week and gets up as early as 6:30 a.m. to ride his bike before eventually making his way to OHS for an hour-long weight-training session.
When Belmore found out about Greenway’s camp, she immediately reached out to Shaw and thought it would be an excellent opportunity to tap into his love of football while synchronizing it with REACH’s core values. Shaw made his way to Hutchinson High School for the two-day event and immediately made a name for himself both on and off the field.
He remained engaged when listening to motivational speakers and stood out during drills for his attention to detail, leadership and hustle.
“I tried to set and example and jog from station to station and not walk,” Shaw said.
During the end of the final day on Friday, June 21, Shaw found out personally from Greenway that he had been selected as the camp’s MVP, an award given to the individual who displayed the highest level of character among their peers.
“It was cool to be recognized by those guys,” Shaw said. “It just shows that no matter what, you always need to give your best. You never know who is going to be watching.”
If Shaw continues on his current trajectory, there’s no doubt more eyes will be checking his every move. He’s lost a considerable amount of weight in the last couple of years and is one of the most dedicated and driven individuals in his grade level. He trains with Owatonna strength and conditioning coach, Jerry Eggermont, on a regular basis and is excited to start his freshman year at the high school.
“Excited and a little nervous,” Shaw said.
Football will remain one of his greatest outlets as he plans on joining the Huskies’ program this fall and play on both sides of the ball until he eventually chooses a permanent position as he matures and joins the varsity team. He enjoys playing defense the most and has lined up primarily at running back on offense.
“I just like being out there,” he said.
Shaw lives with his mother in Owatonna and plans on remaining in REACH when he enters the ninth grade as OHS recently announced that the program will be available at the high school level. Assistant football coach, Matt Skala, will be spearheading the implementation process and is the ideal candidate for the job. He’s already developed a relationship with Shaw and the two will no doubt become even closer because of their involvement in football.
“I listen, I don’t judge, and I’m very honest,” Skala told Ryan Anderson of the People’s Press. “I take a lot of pride in building relationships, because I think relationships are everything.”