Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Through the long dreadlocks that partially covered his face, Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault looked up and smiled when asked what he expects of himself this season.
“I’m expecting greatness,” he said. “I’m hoping greatness; I’ll say that.”
The sophomore from DeSoto, Texas, doesn’t lack confidence, but he’s not alone in thinking big things are in store for him this season.
Three weeks into CU’s preseason camp, no player has turned heads quite like Shenault, who possesses just about all the qualities wanted in a great receiver. He’s big (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), fast, athletic and already one of the strongest players on the team, regardless of position.
“He’s a naturally strong dude,” strength and conditioning coach Drew Wilson said over the summer. “He’s the strongest wide receiver and … he squats with Colby and Jake.”
That’s Colby Pursell, the Buffs’ 6-foot-4, 290-pound projected starter at center and 6-4, 295-pound Jake Moretti, who is fighting for the starting job at left tackle.
“He’s a strong kid,” Wilson said of Shenault. “He’s special. Viska’s a freak.”
Quarterback Steven Montez has also referred to Shenault as a “freak,” with the hands of a reliable possession receiver, but also the speed of a deep threat.
“That’s why I’m a firm believer that you have to recruit well,” co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini said. “It makes us better coaches when your X is better than their O. He’s a special athlete, as far as how he’s built: strength and speed. He has excellent ball skills and he understands the offensive schemes.
“We’re excited to see what No. 2 can do.”
Shenault’s been on the path to stardom since his youth.
His father, the late Laviska Sr., wasn’t an athlete, the younger Shenault said, but was 6-foot-2, and his mom, Annie, played a little bit of basketball.
“I have good genes, I guess,” Shenault said.
He also spent a lot of time on the family trampoline.
“When I was young, people don’t believe me, I used to sleep on the trampoline and that’s where I got the legs that I got,” he said. “Just jumping gave me my calves, and then just lifting repeatedly.”
All that jumping may have got him going, but since his senior year of high school, Shenault has been a diligent worker in the weight room.
As a junior at DeSoto, he had modest numbers, with 27 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns, but he wanted more.
“From my sophomore to junior year, I didn’t lift that much and I don’t like being at the bottom of the chart,” he said. “I like being at the top of the chart. I just worked hard lifting and I like it now.”
By senior year, Shenault was a star for DeSoto, with 46 catches for 825 yards and nine touchdowns, helping his team to a 16-0 record to its first state title and a final No. 2 spot in the MaxPreps national rankings.
Last year, the Buffs’ passing game centered around three talented seniors (Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross), so Shenault was targeted just 10 times, but he caught seven passes for 168 yards — a 24.0 average that was, by far, the best on the team. He also scooped up a fumble on a punt return and took it 55 yards to the end zone for a touchdown against Texas State.
In his limited time in front of fans, including the spring game in March when he turned both of his catches into touchdowns, Shenault has displayed speed, powerful legs to bust tackles and the knack for making big plays.
Chiaverini has seen enough in the past year to realize Shenault could be a special player for the Buffs.
“The game is not too big for that kid; you can tell,” he said. “When you see him in the meeting room or on the practice field, he’s one of our strongest players on the football team, but he’s also one of our brightest kids. When I talk Xs and Os and I put something on the board he can go out there and he can run it the first time without making a mistake. It’s pretty impressive.”
Perhaps most impressive is how much Shenault stands out among a group of receivers that is the most talented CU’s had in years. Seniors Kabion Ento, Jay MacIntyre and Juwann Winfree lead the group, while Tony Brown, Jaylon Jackson and KD Nixon have been three of the most consistent performers during camp.
Shenault might ultimately be the best of the group, but said he’s just eager to see what the receivers can do as a unit.
“It’s a lot of fun, competing every day and having fun with my brothers,” he said. “It’s very competitive. It’s fun because we all work together and we just know big things are coming.”