ANNAPOLIS — Jarred Shannon came to Navy in part to play college football. For much of his career, his shoulders wouldn't permit it.
With one last chance, the senior is poised to become the latest single-year starter at outside linebacker for the Midshipmen.
Few went through more to earn it.
"This is the dream season right here," Shannon said. "A kid who has been hurt year in and year out gets one year under his feet and realizes he can stay healthy for a season."
A year ago, Shannon was a special teams ace for the Midshipmen, playing in every game while earning scattered snaps on defense. It wasn't a starting gig, but it was a massive upgrade over his recent history.
As a high school junior, he dislocated his left shoulder but delayed surgery until after graduation. Then he came to Navy, where he tore the labrum in the same shoulder as a freshman.
After another surgery, he was sure he could make a difference as a sophomore. Then came an injury with familiar pain; he'd torn his right labrum, and knew almost instantly what was wrong. Worse, he knew precisely what to expect as a rehabilitation process.
"My sophomore year was really rough on me because I had high expectations," Shannon said. "I wanted to come in and beat some guys out and play, and when that happened, it was a major setback and I started questioning myself - like 'Is this for me? I'm never healthy.' "
One day, he started to clean out his locker, more certain than ever his hard-luck career was finished. But defensive coordinator Buddy Green and teammates stopped by, encouraging him to rally after another surgery and attempt to etch out a major role in the second half of his career.
The despondence was understandable but also fleeting. Soon enough, he aggressively approached his rehab work in the hopes he could finally stay on the field.
"Every time he'd step up, he'd get injured," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "To me, that shows me the resiliency of this kid and what character he has, because he's always bounced back. There are times I'd see him before surgery and go 'Are you OK?' and he'd give me a thumbs up and say, 'Coach, I'm going to be fine.' "
It was never more true than in the spring, when Shannon earned a spot atop the depth chart at outside linebacker less than a year after not even appearing on the preseason three-deep. Still, he owns just four tackles in his career entering his last season.
That's not a major concern at Navy, which specializes in plugging in one-year starters at outside linebacker who find ways to thrive when their turn finally arrives. Four times in the past four seasons, the Mids utilized a capable one-year option as a starter at the position, including at both spots last year.
Shannon is poised to follow that tradition this fall, and coaches believe the converted safety can succeed.
"He has the skill set we're looking for at that position," outside linebackers coach Tony Grantham said. "He's athletic enough, he can cover receivers, he can cover running backs out of the backfield. He's physical enough to play on tight ends and be able to take on fullbacks. We're really expecting big things out of him."
Shannon always harbored similar expectations for himself. With his injuries in the past, Shannon's perseverance is something both he and the program are likely to fully appreciate should he enjoy a strong senior season.
"It's all about challenges at this school," Shannon said. "You have to step up to the challenge. This is just another one for me."
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