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Home for the Holidays: Shaw builds on family's legacy
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw (14) avoids a tackle attempt by Kentucky safety Winston Guy Jr. (21) as he runs the ball during the first half in Lexington, Ky. on Oct. 16, 2010. - photo by Ed Reinke

When the Shaw family gets together, they try not to talk exclusively about football.

But, the conversation inevitably turns to discussions of the gridiron anyway.

"We try not to talk about football, but it always ends up that we do every time," said Jaybo Shaw, who added that even his mother probably knows more about football than most people. "But it’s a good thing."

This football family has translated a shared passion for the sport into unqualified success. And on Monday the Shaw family will converge on Orlando, Fla., to see the younger brother in action.

At Flowery Branch High, Connor Shaw led the Falcons football team to new heights, reaching the state championship game in 2008 and the semifinals in 2009. The dual-threat quarterback helped to build Flowery Branch into a recognized program state-wide.

Now Connor is trying to do the same as the signal caller at South Carolina — help lead the Gamecocks to their first 11-win season in school history.

No. 9 South Carolina (10-2), plays No. 20 Nebraska (9-3) at 1 p.m. on Monday at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

"We’re aiming for that 11th win," said Connor, who took over the starting quarterback job from Stephen Garcia earlier in the season. Garcia, a senior, was dismissed from the program.

Connor called his dad soon after finding out that he would be starting at quarterback.

"I told him that it was something that he earned, that he earned that position, and to have fun with it," his father, Lee, said. "We’re all excited about being able to go down and see Connor."

Connor will have his family in the stands, a family that has raised their younger son around football.

Lee started the Flowery Branch football coach, helping to grow it into the football program it is today. After this past season, a trip to the quarterfinals, Lee took a job as a head football coach and athletic director back home in Rabun County.

Jaybo, his older brother, was Connor’s quarterback for the Falcons back when the younger brother was Jaybo’s top receiving target.

Nowadays Jaybo, who just finished his collegiate football career as the starting quarterback of perennially successful Georgia Southern, which reached the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs this season, is a great sounding board for a younger brother still working his way through college as a sophomore.

"My older brother has been there, done that," Connor said. "When we talk on a game day he mainly gives me reassurance, to take what the defense gives you."

Jaybo, for one, is happy to dispense the advice and be a proud older brother.

"He’s my best friend, we talk every single day. I try to give him some advice, but more times he’s giving me advice," said Jaybo, who plans to become a graduate assistant and then pursue a career as a coach. "I’m a proud big brother, proud to see him grow up, excited to see him at the bowl game, and he’s got two more years to get better."

It’s a treat for the entire family to all be together for one game. This past season, with Jaybo starting at Georgia Southern and Connor at South Carolina, their parents would switch between the two brothers to watch their games.

Lee, who coached both his sons at Flowery Branch, has begun to see in Connor now what he saw during those deep playoff runs with the Falcons a few years back.

"He looks like he did in high school when he was comfortable playing quarterback — the game has slowed down for him," Lee said. "He’s definitely a dual threat, and it seems like they’ve set the game plan to Connor’s strengths."

As at Flowery Branch, Connor has brought another element to the South Carolina offense — his speed.

This season he has thrown for 1,218 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions on 112 of 171 passing, but the 6-1, 204-pound sophomore has also rushed for 483 yards and seven touchdowns.

Many of the running and option plays out of the shotgun for the Gamecocks this season aren’t much different than the plays he had been running under his father at Flowery Branch.

"The run game out of the shotgun is really similar," Connor said. "The biggest similarity is the zone read option attack, and once I took over the starting job, we did it more.

"The more I play the more comfortable I am."

And while the Citrus Bowl, between two of the top college football teams in the nation, is certainly a much different scale than a trip to the Georgia state championship game in 2008, Connor will once again have his family in the stands.

For the Shaw family, football looks to remain a big topic of conversation for a long time to come.

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