Bred to catch


Jordan Shipley

Jordan Shipley plays like a coach's son is supposed to play with those surround-sound fundamentals that slide so neatly into the dividers of a playbook.

But there is just as much sandlot in the Bengals' new-hope wide receiver as there is the straight-and-narrow. Shipley didn't become the state's most prolific wide receiver with numbers as big Texas just because his dad made sure he treated him tougher than everyone else at Burnet High School.

"I think it just comes from me and my friends playing sandlot football all the time when I was growing up; that's what we did," Shipley says. "That's what I grew up doing: Figure out ways to get open and catch the ball and run with it."

Just like Shipley has immersed himself in the Bengals offense, there was a time from kindergarten until seventh grade when he memorized the driveways of his neighborhood in Abilene because they were usually the end zones. The Brophys didn't have a driveway, so you had to be careful playing out in the street. The Pringles and the Bains had driveways, but each was shaped differently than what the Shipleys had.

"We had several kids," Shipley says. "Driveways would be an end zone. Or trees. You knew according to which yard you were in how the end zones were. I think one of the neighbors' trees was one end zone, and our driveway was the other one. Every yard was shaped differently so we had different out-of-bounds. You had to know where you were."

Right now, this is where he is. After catching the most balls ever at the University of Texas, the 6-0, 190-pound Shipley is coming off an impressive string of Bengals camps as the club grooms him to be a slot receiver in the mold of 100-catch men T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Wes Welker. He might not have the yards-after-catch strength of Houshmandzadeh, but the Bengals think he's got the same third-down savvy.

"The biggest thing is believing you can come in and play with these guys. I've got a long way to go. Hopefully I'll be able to get it done," Shipley says. "The biggest thing as far as my position is learning the hot routes and protections, and all the different responsibilities. Once I get that and can just go out and play, it will be easier."

If he can't do it, who can?

Here's a guy that didn't have to leave his house to get highlight tapes. His dad, Bob, had video from not only coaching at Abilene Christian, but also from playing running back and fullback there in the late '70s and early '80s. Bob's older brother coached high school and Jordan would break out those tapes, as well as the tapes of his other uncle and Bob's younger brother, Stephen, TCU's second all-time leading receiver.

"He was always watching tape and listening and going to my practices," Bob Shipley says. "With all the access to the facilities and being around all those players, he had to love it."

(Now that his son is a teammate of another former Abilene Christian running back, Bob allows, "I couldn't hold Bernard (Scott)'s jock.")

No question. Jordan Shipley has been bred to play football. One grandfather, Dick Felts, played at Abilene Christian. His other grandfather, Dan Shipley, played with Doak Walker himself at SMU. Bob nurtured Jordan as a quarterback until he took a job in the small West Texas town of Rotan and since there was a good senior quarterback he put the freshman Jordan in at wide receiver. Even though he had 454 total yards in that varsity debut with the Yellowhammers with three punt returns for touchdowns, Bob thought he would eventually end up at quarterback.

But when Bob got the job the next year at Burnet, there was already a quarterback there named Stephen McGee, soon headed to Texas A&M and now with the Cowboys. Kid or no kid, Bob wasn't replacing an NFL quarterback.

"It was fun," Jordan says of playing for Bob. "He taught me how to work harder than everybody else. He felt like he had to be a lot harder on me than everybody else. He told me that he would get on me more than everybody else on the team. Everybody would ask me, 'Why is he so tough on you?' He wanted everybody to know he didn't give me any special treatment. If I ever did anything wrong, I got chewed out. There were times I think he would normally let it go, but if it was me I got the full chewing."

Not that it happened a lot. Bob might catch him on one of those sultry Texas afternoons occasionally jogging on the backside of a play, but not much.

"I expected more of him than anybody else," Bob says. "He'd always been around me. He knew how I wanted it done. He knew what I expected."

Shipley never came off the field at Burnet because he also was the team's kicker as well as a DB. Then when he went to Texas, he again stayed on the field as a holder.

"He must have set a record for holding. He held in every game for four years for a high-scoring team," Bob says. "And never a problem."

Always the good hands.

Bob Shipley remembers those days he would come home from practice and his pre-schooler would put the couch cushions on the floor so he could dive for the football Bob would throw him. When Jordan got into grade school and Bob went to his alma mater at Abilene Christian as the offensive line coach and later offensive coordinator, the son remembers holding on to field goals and extra points during days he and his buddies would be allowed into practice. They'd later romp through pickup games on the greenswards of the college, free of the driveways.

If Jordan emulated anybody, it wasn't a Cowboy or a Longhorn, it was his Uncle Stephen. From 1989-92, Stephen caught 152 balls for the Horned Frogs, second only to 10-year NFL receiver Mike Renfro in school history.

"He was 6-4 and he just jumped over everybody on the fade route," Jordan says. "Completely different than my style. But some of the stuff is similar. He had really good hands and I grew up throwing the ball with him."

After all the tape and all the pickup games and all the honors and all the chewing out, Bob Shipley realized his son had it all figured out two years ago. It was the week the Longhorns played Oklahoma in a game Jordan Shipley would bust open with a punt return for a score. A few days before, son told father that he was turning his life over to God and that there would be no more stress.

"Football isn't the most important thing in his life," Bob Shipley says. "He's very committed to his faith and it was at about that time his career really took off. He's a very even-keeled guy."

But football is important. He can take you back to the Abilene driveways to prove it.

"I didn't see those guys play until I was older," Jordan says of Houshmandzadeh and Welker. "It's probably the same deal. We probably just all grew up doing the same thing: Running around trying to get open."

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