Josh Shirley insists he isn’t bothered by his new, specialized role in Washington’s defense.
“The coaches know what’s best,” he says, “and if they think I’m fit for the pass rush and that’s where they want to put me, I’m blessed to just be on the field. Whenever they call my number I’m going to be ready.”
Washington’s game at UCLA on Friday night will be a homecoming of sorts for Shirley, one of 38 players on the UW roster from the southern California region. This, though, will have added significance for Shirley.
An All-American linebacker at Kaiser High in Fontana, Calif., Shirley signed with UCLA but never played for the Bruins after being dismissed by then-UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel in the summer of 2010, along with receiver Paul Richardson (now at Colorado) and Shaquille Richardson (Arizona). The three had initially been charged with suspicion of felony theft, but later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“What had happened,” Shirley says now, “was not in my character.”
Given a second chance by UW coach Steve Sarkisian before the 2010 season, Shirley says he has “moved on” from the incident at UCLA. He insists he’s more mature and “hanging around good people.”
“We recruited Josh extremely hard coming out of high school, so I knew Josh, I knew his father, I knew the family,” Sarkisian said. “Kids are going to make mistakes; I’m aware of that. I’ve got 105 sons between the ages of 18 and 22 years old, so we’re not going to be perfect. So just like with anybody, when a kid makes a mistake, we try to assess the error in judgment and really try to identify, ‘Is that really who he is or is that out of character?’ And I really felt the mistake Josh made at UCLA was out of character.
“So we brought him in. Part of the stipulation when we brought him in was we were going to redshirt him his freshman year, which he was probably good enough to play. And in that time, and all the way up till today, he’s just been amazing. He’s been a good student, he’s been great in the community, he’s been a good teammate. I couldn’t ask for more than what he’s brought.”
Shirley, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior, is listed as the backup to sophomore Cory Littleton at UW’s rush-end hybrid linebacker position. He’s one of the pass-rushing specialists called upon in UW’s “Jetsons” package.
After sitting out the Cal game with a calf injury, he returned against Colorado and forced a fumble that Marcus Peters recovered and returned 53 yards for a touchdown.
“Throughout the week the coaches prepared us phenomenally,” Shirley said. “It was great the way we were prepared throughout the week, so I just trust the process and trust how we prepare during the week and it just came out in my favor.”
Shirley, a part-time starter in 2012, had the best game of his UW career against Illinois in September, when he had three sacks and seven tackles.