Colorado was loaded with talent at receiver in 2017, featuring a senior trio that would all wind up among the top eight in program history for catches.
That fall, however, receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini couldn’t take his eyes off a true freshman that was turning heads on a daily basis.
“You would see him do things in practice when the ball was in the air and he would just go get it,” Chiaverini said. “It opened my eyes a little.”
A year later, the rest of the country began to notice Laviska Shenault and it quickly became a matter of when – not if – he would play in the NFL. On Tuesday, Shenault made it official, announcing that he will forego his senior year and declare for the 2020 NFL Draft.
“I just wanted to make a smart decision for myself and my family,” said Shenault, who said before the season he would likely skip his senior year. “I just think this was the right thing to do and I felt comfortable doing it. I think I’m one of the best players in the draft coming up, so I’ll take my chances.”
Shenault is the 10th player in CU history to declare early for the draft and the first since cornerback Isaiah Oliver after the 2017 season.
Arguably the best player at CU in a quarter-century, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Shenault closed his college career with 149 catches for 1,943 yards and 10 touchdowns, along with 279 yards and seven touchdowns on 40 rushing attempts. He also scored a touchdown on his first college touch, picking up a fumbled punt return and taking it to the end zone.
Shenault ranks eighth in CU history for career catches, 11th in receiving yards and 25th in yards from scrimmage.
“There’s very few people that have the athleticism, the size, the ability, the entire package,” CU athletic director Rick George said. “He had a great career at Colorado. I have every expectation he’s going to excel at the next level, because he works at it. He’s a great young man and I think his best days are ahead of him.”
Chiaverini saw the potential in Shenault when he first met him as a junior at DeSoto (Tex.) High School.
“I knew he was going to be a good player when I watched him in high school at DeSoto,” said Chiaverini, who recruited Shenault and fellow DeSoto receiver KD Nixon to CU in 2017. “I thought he had some really special gifts as far as size and speed, but his game has come a long way since his freshman year (at CU) and you saw him get better every year from freshman to sophomore year to junior year, just his route-running, his releasing, and obviously he is an explosive athlete.
“I knew he was going to be a really good player. You don’t know he’s going to be a first round draft pick, which he’s projected to be, so it was a lot of fun for me, obviously, as a former player and now as a coach.”
Shenault said he started to believe he could play in the NFL when he was on the scout team at DeSoto – one of the powerhouse programs in talent-rich Texas.
“I would do the scout team and players on the varsity would tell me, ‘You’re going to be great one day,’” he said. “I kept working and working.”
With a senior-dominated receiver group of Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross in 2017, Shenault caught just seven passes, but averaged 24 yards per catch.
In spring of 2018, Chiaverini took over as play-caller.
“I saw how he was moving and how explosive he was and I knew we could do more with him,” Chiaverini said. “That’s when we developed the wildcat package and we developed some different stuff for him to get the ball in his hands.”
Shenault lined up at several different positions in 2018, including wildcat quarterback, and finished with 86 catches for 1,011 yards and six touchdowns, while adding five rushing touchdowns, despite playing in only nine games because of injury. He led the country in catches per game (9.6).
“I wanted to make sure when you have an athlete like that, you want to give him the ball as much as you can,” Chiaverini said. “I played him all over the place.”
This season, Shenault battled through a few more injuries and adjusted to a new offensive system, led by coordinator Jay Johnson, but still finished with 56 catches for 764 yards and four touchdowns, along with 161 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“Laviska Shenault represented our relentless culture and was one of the most dynamic, dominant and versatile players that I have ever coached,” CU coach Mel Tucker said in a press release. “He embodies the true ‘show me, don’t tell me’ competitive spirit. I look forward to watching him develop and compete at the elite level and thank him for his contributions on and off the field. Once a Buff, always a Buff.”
Shenault’s greatest moments on the field included his breakout performance against Colorado State in 2018; his game-winning touchdown catch against Nebraska a week later; big games against Air Force, USC and Washington this season; and the powerful fourth down run he had against Stanford on Nov. 9 to help the Buffs clinch that victory.
“I was smiling the whole time, so it definitely meant a lot to me,” he said of that play.
While injuries hampered him over the past two years, Shenault often played through the pain and still produced for the Buffs.
“He did what he was supposed to do when he got the ball in his hands, and that’s a testament to him and his hard work,” Chiaverini said. “He was explosive when he got the ball. That’s all you can do as a player. When you have a special talent like Laviska, you always want more, right? We all do. But he had a great career and he’s going to be a first-round draft pick and he’s going to have a good NFL career, so I’m excited for his future. I’m glad I could be part of his journey from his recruitment to his development.”
Shenault’s development came off the field, too, as he went from shy and quiet to “the life of the party,” Chiaverini said.
“I think it did a lot for me,” Shenault said of coming to CU. “Before I came to college, I wasn’t a very outgoing person. … I think it made me more wise and more outgoing. It made me live better in a way.”