Football runs in TJ Shanahan’s blood.
His father Tim played collegiately at Arizona. Ditto for his older brother Leka, who played at Utah. Another older brother, Michael, currently plays tackle for UT Martin. And his cousin Jon Halapio has had a four-year NFL career, most recently playing 15 games at center for the New York Giants in 2019.
So it was only natural that the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Shanahan’s first love at four years old was basketball and the now-four-star prospect didn’t even play organized football until 2017.
“I knew (football) was something I was going to get into when I got older,” Shanahan told Eleven Warriors. “My parents didn’t really stress for me to play it at a young age. I’m forever thankful for that. If I didn’t play basketball when I was younger, I wouldn’t be as athletic as I am now.”
Forty-four offers later, Shanahan’s quick footwork and shiftiness is at least partly the reason he is rated as the No. 3 interior offensive lineman and 132nd-best player nationally in the 2023 recruiting class. While it’s pretty hard to have regrets after your path eventually leads to the NFL, Halapio even wishes he got in on the basketball craze in his teenage years.
“I didn’t play basketball, and I quickly realized when I got to the NFL, a lot of the good offensive linemen played basketball and AAU basketball,” Halapio said. “They played basketball for their high schools. My advice to him was keep playing basketball if you can. The more athletic you are, the better you can be at your craft and your sport.”
While Shanahan continues to play basketball at the prep level, he knows that’s not where his future lies. He consults frequently with Halapio, his godbrother, for workouts to expand his craft. The elder offensive lineman has passed along pass protection techniques, reaction drills and workouts Shanahan uses daily.
His progress hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“His footwork is really good,” said Jim Buckridge, Shanahan’s high school coach at Timber Creek (Orlando, Florida). “Probably more so ready for the next level than the high school level, because we don’t do a lot of the kick step, drop step type stuff they do at the next level. But he focuses on that by himself daily.”
Shanahan and Halapio remain extremely close. Shanahan, who proudly admits he tries to shape his game in a similar fashion to his older cousin, resides in Orlando, Florida. Halapio grew up in St. Petersburg, a little more than 100 miles away from Shanahan. Halapio enjoyed a successful collegiate career at Florida, which Shanahan remembers vividly. He’d attend several of his cousin’s games a year and decorated his bedroom walls with Florida Gators posters. It’s always been one of two dream schools for the offensive lineman entering his junior year of high school. His cousin is selling the Gators to Shanahan.
“I 110 percent want him to be a Gator,” Halapio said with a laugh. “That’s my personal preference. But I know he’ll make the right decision for him when the time is right.”
The other dream school? Ohio State.
It might seem odd, considering he was born and raised in Florida. But one December evening, Shanahan tuned in to the 2013 Big Ten Championship game. That’s where his love for Ohio State started. Again, a bit strange considering the Buckeyes lost that game 34-24 to Michigan State. But they gained a fan in Florida that night.
“EVER SINCE I LAID MY EYES ON THAT GAME, I WAS AN OHIO STATE FAN. REALLY, I GREW UP A DUAL OHIO STATE AND FLORIDA FAN. I ALWAYS LOVED SOMETHING ABOUT THE BUCKEYES.”– TJ Shanahan
And the Buckeyes are mutually a fan of Shanahan. OSU has scouted Shanahan dating all the way back to the beginning of his freshman year of high school. He picked up an offer from his Midwest dream school last summer.
He didn’t visit Columbus in June, utilizing the lifting of the dead period to instead visit UCF, Florida, Oregon, Cal, Stanford, USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, Texas and Texas A&M. But his absence from Columbus could change shortly, as he hopes to visit campus this week.
“One thing I like about Ohio State is how genuine people are,” Shanahan said. “I really can tell coach (Tony) Alford is the type of guy where if you commit to their school, he’s going to commit to you for life. I definitely see that every time I talk to them. I like how they operate and how they do things, and that they’re up for a national championship every single year. That really stands out to me because they’re one of the most winningest programs, if not the winningest program in college football.”
Shanahan continues to maintain a close relationship with Alford and with OSU offensive line coach Greg Studrawa.
“I would just say they like how nasty I am,” Shanahan said. “I would say I’m a personable guy off the field, I love talking to guys and having conversations. But whenever I’m on the field and I strap up my helmet and put on my pads, it’s all business. I think they see that and they really like that about me.”
Entering his junior year, Shanahan has no plans to commit any time soon. He said he will likely begin narrowing down his list six months from now, or perhaps even sooner if he feels comfortable.