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Will Shipley is an elite RB in the 2021 class from North Carolina.

Will Shipley: The junior RB is best defined by a letter rather than a 5-star ranking

Want to attack every day with the latest UGA recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings. The play today calls for a chance to get to know 5-star junior RB Will Shipley

Will Shipley, the 5-star RB in North Carolina, is a priority for all the elite Power 5 schools in the 2021 class.

That will certainly include the University of Georgia.

Running backs coach Dell McGee was the first coach through the door this month to see him on the first day coaches were back out on the road. McGee was there by 8 a.m. at his high school.

He beat the other six or seven coaches who would show up that day to see Shipley. That’s typical McGee. It brings to mind his pursuit for 5-star North Carolina RB Zamir White back in 2018.

Kirby Smart also stopped by Weddington High (Matthews, N.C.) on Wednesday. Those elements validate where the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose RB (247Sports Composite) sits on the board for the 2021 class.

But those are feeble pings. The sort which drive recruiting narratives. Yet they will not crack a list of the top 10 things to know about the guy who goes by ‘Ship around his state championship program.

If one aims to remember one thing about Shipley, it should be a letter.

Not his 4.375 grade-point average. Not his 4.46 laser time in the 40 at an Opening regional 10 months ago.

Not his 11.0 yards per carry. Or his 2,066 rushing yards last season. Nor his 42 total touchdowns in 2019.

It won’t be that he works harder than anyone on a two-time state title team.

The thing to know here has to be one selfless letter.

“He wrote a note to one of our custodians that cleans up in the gym area and the weight room area,” Weddington High coach Andy Capone said. “He gave it to our athletic director. He asked him if he could give it to the custodian.”

Shipley did not even sign his name to it.

“He said don’t tell her it is from me,” Capone continued. “He said ‘I just wanted to thank her and let her know how much we appreciate her and what she does for us.’ Now, that was during our season. When we and he have got a million things going on. Practice everyday. Grades. All that. All the recruiting and he took time out of his life to write a little note to someone he wanted to show kindness to and didn’t even sign his name to it.”

It goes on and on. Like everyday stories about his leadership. They abound. Like the big play after big play on his junior tape.

“There are times when he only touches the ball four or five times in a game because we are up so big and then he becomes the biggest cheerleader on the sidelines,” Capone said. “You can’t say that about a lot of 5-stars.”

Will Shipley: Why everybody wants to sign this guy

That first passage serves as a good first look.

“Football is such a great way to teach you so many life lessons,” Will Shipley said. “I started at a very young age and it teaches you teamwork and what is really valuable in life. Trusting your teammate. Your team is only as strong as your weakest link. All those lessons have made it worth my while to play this sport. Just because of how real it is and how many real relationships in life I’ve been able to create because of it.”

Shipley has put on weight. He’s now 5 feet, 11 inches in height and will weigh 200 pounds.

The real treat here came while engaging him in a real conversation. Especially one that did not dwell on his back-to-back North Carolina state champion teams.

It looked beyond the 2,066 rushing yards (11.0 yards per carry) and 30 touchdowns he piled up as a junior. His 34 catches for 582 yards (17.1 yards per catch) and eight more scores he added as a receiver were not brought up.

“I just want to lay back on a great degree and something I can be proud of,” Shipley said. “But also at the same time be able to communicate and connect with the alumni systems and be able able get a great job when the air as they say runs out of the ball for everyone one day.”

Will Shipley-Georgia recruiting-UGA recruiting
Will Shipley was joined by a pair of life-long Georgia fans on his trip last season for the Texas A&M game. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

He’s sizing up two potential degree paths: Business management. Engineering.

He’s working on either lowering his 40 time or raising his GPA. The goal? Try to get the 40 time lower than his GPA.

Don’t bet against it.

He sounds like he should wind up at Stanford. (The Cardinal have offered.) But that would be an upset.

He has deep family ties to North Carolina State. There are dozens of Wolfpack alumni among his immediate family.

Shipley placed that figure at 26. It includes his parents.

His name is also linked to Clemson and Notre Dame, among others, in the 2021 cycle. Alabama, Clemson, Duke and Notre Dame all visited this week. Everyone did.

That’s sensible given the fact he’s rated as the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose back and the No. 21 overall prospect.

That makes him the second highest running back prospect for his class, but he hasn’t had the time to whittle down a list of highly-interested schools. Look for him to make his decision over the summer before his senior season.

He is also on track to enroll early. Of course he is.

Shipley was set to visit Clemson and Duke and the Wolfpack for his “Junior Day” trips this month. He was not in Athens for any of the “Junior Day” weekends so far in January.

But it was clear back in November that Georgia has a shot. That came after Shipley had an all-encompassing great visit.

“Going into it I wasn’t 100 percent sure how I would like it,” Shipley said back in November. “But coming away from it, it definitely exceeded all the expectations I had.”

The very first camp he went to as a freshman was at UGA. He also went to the Georgia Tech game in 2018, but didn’t get much face time with the staff.

“This was my first real visit to Georgia where I was really engaged with the coaches and everything,” he said of that Texas A&M trip.

McGee started making him a priority on Sept. 1 of his junior year. That’s when juniors could be contacted by NCAA schools. Prior to that A&M visit, he wasn’t sure how he felt about Georgia. Or how the Bulldogs value him.

He knows now.

“It was very eye-opening,” he said of that visit. “Just that atmosphere. The relationship that I have with them that I can see myself creating and then bettering with them in the future. As I said, it really exceeded by expectations and I absolutely loved it.”

Will Shipley-Georgia recruiting-UGA recruiting
Will Shipley visited Georgia or a dreary miserable day. He still felt it was an incredible atmosphere and experience in Sanford Stadium that afternoon. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Where things took off with Will Shipley and UGA

“Ship” checked out the Georgia program in the rain and slog of that dreary Texas A&M game.

He was impressed by a few areas where Georgia doesn’t have an easy appeal. Playing running back at Georgia? That’s an obvious appeal. Especially to running back from North Carolina.

He also noticed the size of the Georgia offensive linemen.

“Oh my gosh,” he said. “I was talking to coach McGee and the right tackle came up and dapped up coach McGee. I just sat there and said ‘that is actually insane’ and I got to see a bunch of the 2020 commits and even the 2021 O-line targets that sounded really interested in Georgia. Those are just some big big boys at Georgia and going to Georgia and obviously they can move very well. Which is really impressive.”

There were other things. Positives that didn’t involve an elite program and state-of-the-art facilitie. Shipley brought a friend and his little sister along. He said they were die-hard Georgia fans.

The way the Georgia staff treated his family and his guests stood out.

“I brought some life-long Georgia fans with me and they left very very happy and very very appreciative,” Shipley said. “A lot of the credit for that goes to the Georgia staff for including them and making them feel good and at home. … Just how kind coach Smart and coach McGee were to my family. Then my friend and his little sister. They were so kind. They introduced them to everyone. That really stuck out and it really made an impression on me.”

Shipley had been friends with one of his guests since middle school. His buddy will shoot him a recruiting message about UGA every once in a while. Those will usually invoke Georgia’s “RBU” tradition.

“He’s just always been a huge Georgia fan,” he said. “It just happened to be that I became who I became and I was able to bring him to a Georgia game.”

Will Shipley-Georgia recruiting-UGA recruiting
Will Shipley definitely took a few moments to soak in all the atmosphere at Sanford Stadium on his visit last season. Not just the raindrops. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Will Shipley: How he feels about UGA now

The way Georgia welcomed his guests is just one of the things that still matter now. Especially after the well-known “visit highs” of any trip have worn off.

What remains now is a strong interest in the Bulldogs. It has been cultivated by increased contact and strong messages from McGee and Smart.

“It really has,” Shipley said earlier this month. “I’ve talked to coach [Kirby] Smart and talked to coach Dell [McGee] a lot more than I did previously to the visit. I think it shows on both sides that we are serious. It is a not a sophomore joke around thing anymore. I’ve definitely felt more contact. They’ve been recruiting me as hard as anyone.”

Smart reached out to congratulate Shipley and his teammates in December on their state title. McGee was in contact with Shipley the day of the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. The junior had an aggressive research plan this past fall checking out schools. He traveled to see nine games in 2019.

What was the lasting memory of that Georgia game?

“It was one of the best atmospheres that I have been to,” he said. “The light show at the beginning of the fourth quarter was such a great experience. I understand it all. Bad weather day. Raining up until halftime and it was still a great atmosphere. With the weather, the offensive production wasn’t as it has been earlier in the season. That didn’t play a big factor for me because I know how good their running game is and how good their running backs are.”

He’s aware of the Georgia tradition at running back, but specifically how well North Carolina backs have fared in Athens.

“With Todd Gurley and Zamir White, there has been plenty of great running backs that have come out of North Carolina to go to Georgia and be very very successful,” he said. “It is great to be able to see that and kind of have a connection already without already having one.”

Will Shipley: “I’m just a kid who absolutely loves math.”

The fact he loves Math and boldly proclaims it is another unique character trait. There are a lot of those.

“I want to make something out of myself with math and that interest there after my time in football is up,” he said.

Capone says Shipley never settles with where he is at. But he also never settles with where his teammates are at.  When he brings up his favored play call, he shows you a little more of his competitive makeup.

It is a counter play. Under center. The back is off-set. The defensive line stacks to that side.

“The hike and then we’ve got two people pulling,” he said. “One goes out and kicks out. One goes up to the linebacker. It is such a beautiful play because if it is blocked well and executed, there’s just a perfect crease and you are one-on-one with the safety.”

“If you can’t beat a safety, then you probably shouldn’t be playing that position.”

It is the sort of confidence athletes at his level need. Even those who have been hand-timed at 4.34 in the 40.

He didn’t excel at the pro shuttle drill (4.21) at the Opening, but said his trainer has clocked him in that 5-10-5 agility test at 3.94 and 3.95 seconds.

When his team won the state title in 2018, he had a touchdown. He ran for 49 yards and added a 50-yard touchdown reception. It was not good enough.

“Was just not very happy with myself after the game,” he said. “To come in this year it was my goal to just leave the game satisfied with how I played. It wasn’t how many yards I got or this or that. It was whether or not I gave everything and left everything I had on the field. This year I really do feel like I did that. I was very happy with my performance and also my team’s performance.”

He even played safety in the state title game. That added to his 26 carries for 256 yards and four scores. The best part of it all was the three-hour bus ride back home.

“Pumping music as loud as it could go,” he said. “The bus driver having to tell us to sit down because the bus was shaking too much.”

Little things like that are major.

The coolest day of his life so far? He will say it was the day he picked up his first offer. He was offered by Duke last January. David Cutcliffe extended it personally.

“That was probably one of the happiest days I’ve had in my life,” he said. “Just knowing then that I could really do this. I could really go play college football. Just thinking about it now gives me chills. If I could relive one day of my life so far football-related, then that definitely would be it.”

Duke sent its entire coaching staff to visit Weddington High School this week.

Will Shipley: All-purpose or three-down RB? 

Is he really an all-purpose back? Capone doesn’t think so. The tape shows that Shipley runs a lot of counter and power plays for a mere scatback.

The opinion here is he is an every down back in every sense of the term. The vision is there. So is the speed. But there is another element to watch for on his highlight tape.

“He’s so strong that when he gets contacted, he is very rarely brought down by one person,” Capone said. “His balance as he remains engaged with that tackler is something. He continually fights for extra yards. That is really really top level right now for where he is at in high school.”

Capone’s description of the best play on his highlight tape is worthwhile. That play came in the fourth round of the state playoffs. Shipley busted an 82-yard run on a worthy opponent which had won 13 of their 14 games.

When Capone can’t sleep at night, he will watch that tape. He’ll relive that play.

“We ran a buck sweep,” Capone said. “He had to cut it in because they were stretching it. The linebackers really scraped hard. He cut it in. Got back out. Made somebody miss. Then stiff-armed the safety to the ground while staying inbounds. Then turned on the jets and outran everybody for 82 yards to the house.”

Shipley checks every box. That same chorus repeats. Over and over.

“It was vision,” Capone said. “Then it was making somebody miss and cut. Then it was just pure strength and power to stiff-arm a D-1 player down to the ground and then it was pure speed down the sideline to finish it. That’s when the lights are on the most. He’s going right at it. Probably one of the most impressive plays I’ve ever seen.”

When he watches his film late at night, he watches every play.

“Holy cow,” Capone said. “I say it every time. What this kid does is crazy.”

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