Justin Shaffer-Georgia football-UGA football
Super senior OG Justin Shaffer has had quite a career in Athens as a Bulldog since he signed out of Cedar Grove in the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)

Justin Shaffer: The ‘Pac-Man’ Georgia Bulldog story to read before the national championship game

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s the Intel. This entry looks back at the career of super senior starting guard Justin Shaffer and his Georgia Bulldog story.

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Take some time to watch that No. 54 around Lucas Oil Stadium tonight. That is super senior Justin Shaffer.

That’s going to be the young man jumping around like he has winning lottery tickets from both coasts in his travel jumpsuit.

Shaffer was a Class of 2017 signee. He will play his last game as a Bulldog tonight. If there has been a more excitable Bulldog on the field for the last two or three seasons, I haven’t seen one.

Think about how your craziest ‘Dawg fan in your life would act if they were magically transplanted in the offensive huddle every Saturday.

That’s Shaffer. That’s “Pac-Man.”

From following his career from his time at Cedar Grove High School, it is nigh-impossible to watch Shaffer and not think of power pellets, ghosts and still the most iconic video game soundtrack of all time.

That’s because those in the game who have loved and known him for the longest still call him Pac-Man.

“It first started when you are watching film and then all of a sudden you just start seeing linebackers disappear,” former Cedar Grove line coach Lawrence Smith said. “Every time Justin got on them, they would disappear like Pac-Man eating them little pellets. He’d gobble them up. He’d make them disappear like the ghosts when he got right up on them. That’s why we started calling him Pac-Man.”

Thoe team touchdown or first down celebrations for Shaffer have been numerous. That excitement level traces back to the DNA of a Cedar Grove program that has stacked up championships over the last 10 years. Those players, as great as they may be, have always been trained to be team-first.

Shaffer did those same things when he was a Saint.

“We don’t do selfishness,” former Cedar Grove OL coach Lawrence Smith said. “None of us do selfishness. So when they get to the next level, that is only natural and normal to him. We breed that into them. That’s what we expect out of all of them. They celebrate with their teammates. That’s in Justin’s heart. It is not a front.”

Super senior OG Justin Shaffer has had quite a career in Athens as a Bulldog since he signed with the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

The intel on Justin Shaffer’s road to the National Championship Game

Shaffer’s journey from Ellenwood to Indianapolis starts with an evaluation from former UGA assistant Sam Pittman. That’s while he was still at Arkansas recruiting in the 2015 season.

Pittman already knew and favored Shaffer. When he got to Georgia, Shaffer was committed to Louisville.

It didn’t take long from Pittman’s first days on the job in December of 2015. Shaffer would flip to UGA by Valentine’s Day in 2016. He was a 3-star recruit. The 247Sports Composite saw him as the nation’s No. 23 OG and the nation’s No. 388 overall recruit.

Pittman saw a lot more than that. A lot more.

Smith remembers going up for an early UGA visit that January after Pittman was hired. He remembers Pitt telling him he wanted both Shaffer and All-American Alabama commitment Netori Johnson.

“He wanted both,” Smith said. “He said he didn’t think he could get both. But I told him if he wanted both then to go and try and go get them both. He did.”

Those two were an interesting mix. Johnson was a top 100 overall prospect and the better athlete. Shaffer had a lot of reshaping of his body to do.

But he already had better technique. And if his high school coaches had to make a difficult choice about which one they thought would have the more prosperous career, they would not side with the recruiting rankings.

Shaffer was about 6 feet, 4 inches and 355 pounds then. He now lists on the official Georgia roster at 6 feet, 4 inches and 330 pounds.

“Pittman loved them both,” former Cedar Grove assistant (and now Crisp County head coach) Miguel Patrick said. “He came to practice one time and stayed the whole practice and watched those two. He told me afterward ‘Coach, there are not two better guards in the country than these two guys’ and he was so glad to get them at Georgia. Just the athleticism from both of them. How hard they both worked. He really felt like he signed the best two guards in the country that year no matter what the rankings said.”

Johnson was beset with a few medical issues when he got to UGA. He lost a lot of weight due to a diabetes condition. He flipped back and forth from offensive line to defensive line and transferred to play the last two seasons at Middle Tennessee.

He announced this week he was entering the 2022 NFL Draft. Johnson started 11 of 12 games this year. Pro Football Focus named him an honorable mention All-Conference USA offensive lineman.

Shaffer has started at left guard in all 14 of Georgia’s games this year. He’s played in 88 percent of the snaps. That’s second only to Sedrick Van Pran-Granger. The Cedar Grove alum started 10 games in 2021 and another two games in 2019 after enduring a touch neck injury.

Johnson, as likable and fun-loving as any recruit, never started a game at Georgia.

“No disrespect here at all to Netori, but Justin just worked so much harder than he did,” Patrick said.

It goes to show about recruiting rankings sometimes. That is proof that a 3-star recruit is still a very good player. But it also shows how sometimes a young man with Shaffer’s zeal and energy cannot be discounted.

What Shaffer has accomplished in Athens should be celebrated tonight. Georgia kept bringing in 5-stars and higher-rated players to compete against him during the 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 recruiting cycles.

He’s just kept making SEC defenders disappear.

“I’m like a proud Dad,” Smith said, also now at Crisp County. “From where he came, the one thing I always told people is that nobody is going to outwork him. He isn’t ever going to be in the limelight because he is elite or special at doing this or that better than everybody but there isn’t anybody that is going to outwork him.”

He’s always been technically sound, but very hard-working, too. That’s a lethal combo at his size.

Smith remembers when Georgia was recruiting him during the last year of Mark Richt’s time. It has been quite the transformation.

“I saw a picture in my phone memories him from when we went to a camp in 2015 when he was at Florida,” Smith said. “He looked like a little bit head and this Mr. Potato Head body.”

“But then you see him now? He looks like a Greek god.”

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Super senior OG Justin Shaffer has had quite a career in Athens as a Bulldog since he signed with the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

Why Justin Shaffer will play a lot of years in the NFL

This won’t be his last football game. Far from it. Shaffer is one of a busload of Bulldogs who have accepted invitations to the Reese’s Senior Bowl game later this winter down in Mobile.

“I texted him when that came out,” Smith said. “I told him that he just didn’t understand how proud I was for him. To see where he has come from to the Senior Bowl. We all know how big that invite is. I just know how hard he has worked to get to where he is right now.”

Smith can see him as a coach one day. Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, has some high praise for Shaffer.

What has caught the eyes of NFL scouts?

“A lot of things,” Nagy said. “We’ve seen Justin take a nice jump this year. Last year we graded Justin for the game because he was eligible and he kind of fell below the cut line for us. But this year he is clearly above. He was an easy player to pull the trigger on. Some of the areas of improvement we saw areas where his lateral agility and really just stayed latched to defenders better this year.”

“So when you talk about gobbling guys up with them, you can’t do that unless you stay on them. He was doing a better job of that.”

It is again a story about a climb. Nothing has come easy for Shaffer. He has just worked for it.

“You’re talking about a big man here,” Nagy said. “Talking about a 340-pounder with over 33-inch arms. He’s just a big human being. So teams that like guys that can come off the ball and create movement, well Justin is going to be one of their guys.”

Ben Cleveland was named to the Senior Bowl last year. Jamaree Salyer will also join Shaffer at the Senior Bowl this year.

“Just like the rest of that Georgia team they are loaded talent-wise across the board,” Nagy said. “We’ve watched a lot of Georgia tape. We’ve seen them play by multiple guys on our staff, including myself. We’ve seen Georgia play live this fall. It has been fun to watch Justin’s improvement this year.”

Shaffer’s best assets are his size, strength, width and his length.

“He’s a big-bodied guard that everyone in the league wants to play with,” Nagy said. “He can play squared up inside. He takes up space. He doesn’t get pushed or turned. I think when you talk to NFL evaluators they want guys inside that can play square. That’s something Justin can do very well.”

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Justin Shaffer was just a 3-star recruit coming out of Cedar Grove High School in 2017. He's set to start 25th game as a Bulldog tonight in the national championship game. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

Justin Shaffer was just a 3-star recruit coming out of Cedar Grove High School in 2017. He's set to start 25th game as a Bulldog tonight in the national championship game. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
Justin Shaffer was just a 3-star recruit coming out of Cedar Grove High School in 2017. He's set to start 25th game as a Bulldog tonight in the national championship game. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

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