TEMPLE'S TASMANIAN DEVIL: Energetic defensive end Shorter's passion, love for game sparking Wildcats
MAN IN MOTION: Junior defensive end Eric Shorter has produced an outstanding season for the District 12-6A champion Temple Wildcats (9-1), who host the Waxahachie Indians (5-4) in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. The 5-foot-8½, 216-pound Shorter ranks second on the Wildcats' defense with 54 tackles, including 12 for losses and a team-best five sacks along with two fumble recoveries. In 2019 he made 57 tackles and was a second-team all-district pick as a sophomore. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Nobody has to tell Eric Shorter to play hard. For Temple's energetic and talkative junior defensive end who's in his second season as a starter, it never would occur to him to do anything different than to play not just hard, but extremely hard.
While the same thing could be said about many of Shorter's Wildcats teammates, where the Tasmanian devil of Temple seems to distinguish himself is on the practice field. His coaches say he attacks a regular practice on a Monday or Tuesday afternoon the exact same way as if it's a big game on a Thursday or Friday night.
“I've always been the same and had the passion and love for the sport,” Shorter said Tuesday afternoon as District 12-6A champion Temple (9-1) prepared to host Waxahachie (5-4) in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. "Honestly, it comes from the coaches. They believe in me a lot, and I appreciate that. Definitely when you have someone believing in you, you know not to let them down. It's hard to let them down.”
Wildcats defensive coordinator Dexter Knox gave Shorter perhaps the ultimate praise using only four words: “The kid loves football.”
Of course, Knox also had more to say about the 5-foot-8½, 216-pound Shorter, who was a second-team all-district selection last year and currently ranks second on Temple's defense with 54 tackles and first with five sacks as one-fourth of the Wildcats' fierce, active line.
“That's what comes off the page. What you see from him on Friday night, that's what we see Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” Knox said. “That joker's all-out, all the time during practices. Whenever I say there's no tackle circuit that day, he's mad. Not very many practice that hard. I think other kids feed off of Eric's effort. They see him going hard and say, 'We've got to pick it up.'”
Said Temple head coach Scott Stewart: “He's the guy in practice where you go like, 'Dude . . . chill!'”
However, if it sounds like Shorter is a highly intense, super-serious, no-nonsense kind of guy, that actually doesn't provide the full picture. His coaches are just as fast to compliment Shorter's infectious persona and sense of humor.
“Eric's such a fun-loving kid. His personality matches his playing personality – I mean, kind of off the wall, do some crazy stuff. (He's that way) 100 percent of the time,” Stewart said. “He just a fun-loving kid and doesn't take anything – anything – too seriously. I don't mean that he's goofing off. But he has a passion for this game that a lot of young men struggle to (develop). You've got kids that'll play hard, and then you've got kids that it really means something to them.”
Added Knox about Shorter's personality: “It is very unique. He's a funny kid and he can put a smile on your face pretty quickly.”
Sophomore middle linebacker Taurean York leads Temple in tackles for the second straight season, but the fact that Shorter ranks second this year (he finished third in 2019 with 57 stops, including three sacks) with 54 tackles from his “anchor” end position is a testament to his high-motor, relentless style as well as his physicality and skill.
“He's our second-leading tackler. He's around everything. It's ridiculous,” Knox said of Shorter.
An ardent believer in working hard in the weight room, Shorter is strong enough to take on offensive tackles who often outweigh him by at least 60 pounds. He's also fast and athletic enough to chase down quarterbacks, running backs and even receivers.
“I love the weight room, and that's where it's really at. That's the only way you can get better, honestly,” Shorter said. “I look to my left and right and see if somebody's putting more work in than me. And if I see they're putting more work in, then I'll put more weight on the bar.”
In addition, the X factor for Shorter is that's he relentless and never thinks he's out of a play, a trait that allows him to get back into the picture and make uncanny, “Did you see that?” plays on a regular basis.
So, how does he play that way without completely running out of gas? Well, he finishes games while running on proverbial fumes – and then does it all over again the next week.
“Yeah, I'm completely gassed, bruised, everything,” Shorter said, smiling. “As long as we get the win, I'm happy for us as a family.”
If any player manages to uphold the old coaching directive to “leave it all on the field,” it's Shorter.
“What you get with a helmet on is what you get in the weight room. It's what you get when you're running sprints. It's almost like he wants to see how much his body can take,” Stewart said. “I guess the easiest way to put it is there is absolute zero self-preservation instinct with him. It's just not there.”
Shorter knows that his non-stop energy fuels Temple's defense, making him a leader through both his actions and words.
“I can be hyper and get loud and stuff. I'm hyped when I'm with the team. I'd say (that rubs off on) the whole defense,” said Shorter, whose position coaches are Robert Havens and John Matthews. “That's why Coach Knox and them talk about me all the time. If I'm going half-(speed), (teammates are) going to try going half-(speed), because they look up to me. (The coaches) expect a lot of stuff out of me, like leadership and effort. Sometimes I'll be putting in more work than other people.”
After playing running back and defensive line on the sub-varsity level as a freshman, Shorter earned a starting varsity position at defensive end last year and helped Temple go 8-3, share the 12-6A championship with Waco Midway and grab its seventh straight playoff berth.
“There was some moments I would think to myself, 'Am I even good enough for this?' But the coaches believing in me, that's what made me believe in myself,” Shorter said. “I was really a linebacker but I had to grow into a defensive lineman and had to learn all the techniques and fundamentals. I'm a team player, and they've got me right there (at end) because I cause chaos and help the team.”
Shorter said he's built a strong relationship and rapport with the other members of Temple's formidable four-man defensive front: aggressive senior nose tackle Jayven Taylor (51 tackles, 13 for loss), tenacious senior tackle Cody Little (32 tackles, six for loss, 4½ sacks) and emerging junior end Tommy Torres (32 tackles, seven for loss, four sacks).
“The defensive line, we've all come along together and I believe we have a great bond,” Shorter said, admitting that he's the group's biggest talker. “We always talk about family. We're always like, 'Forget about 'me.' I love you.' We go out there and play for each other."
The fact that the 260-pound Torres stands 6-5 gave the much shorter Shorter an opportunity to make a comment that simultaneously was a joke and a literal observation.
“I look up to him,” he said of the towering Torres, an outstanding student who's as reserved as Shorter is rambunctious. “Every time Tommy makes a play, he really gets me fired up. You're going to see me jumping up and tapping his helmet.”
For an example of Shorter's improvement and maturation – both physically and mentally – from his sophomore season to his junior campaign, Stewart pointed to Temple's 39-15 home win over Killeen Ellison on Nov. 6.
“They know these kids from Killeen growing up, so there's usually a bit more chirping. So I see Eric talking out there and I can't tell if he's talking trash, because that gets under my skin,” Stewart said. “So he comes off and I said, 'Hey, what are you saying? Are you talking trash?' And he goes, 'No, sir.' I go, 'What are you saying?' And he goes, 'Well, they lined up in two-back and tried to run gap scheme. So after that play, I was like, 'Dude, are you going to try to run two-back gap scheme against us? Because we eat that around here.'
“I kind of laughed. He was like, 'Dude, that ain't gonna work tonight.' I would have bet a paycheck a year ago that he couldn't have told me what two-back gap scheme is. He grades out higher (than last year). Part of that is just maturation. What I love about him is he hasn't changed any of his personality.”
WILDCAT BALLHAWK: Temple's Eric Shorter (13) runs off the field with fellow junior defensive end Tommy Torres (90) after Shorter forced and recovered a Killeen fumble during the Wildcats' 49-6 home victory over the Kangaroos on Nov. 27 at Wildcat Stadium. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple's defense has allowed only 275.3 yards per game. And although the Wildcats' overall figure of permitting 19.8 points per game would be totally acceptable in today's era of football (they score 38.3 points per game), the reality of the situation is that Temple's starting defense has surrendered far less than that. Wildcats opponents have scored no fewer than seven touchdowns either on special teams, off of interceptions thrown by Temple or against the backup defense.
“Honestly, when we know we need something done, we'll tell each other while we're on the field, 'They ain't scoring no more,'” Shorter said. “We know we've got to put it all on the line for each other.”
Such was the case last September in Temple's 12-6A game against a talented Killeen Shoemaker team. The Grey Wolves led 21-17 late in the third quarter and their offense had a fourth-and-goal situation at the 2-yard line. Shoemaker gave the ball to standout running back Devin Brown, but Shorter exploded from his end post, grabbed Brown and dragged him down for a 2-yard loss.
The change of momentum was crucial for the re-energized Wildcats, who then embarked on a 96-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive en route to a 38-28 victory.
“I don't think he knows what's a big moment, because he plays every play like it's a big play,” Knox said of Shorter.
Fast-forward to Nov. 19 of this year for the Temple-Shoemaker rematch at Killeen's Leo Buckley Stadium. Needing a win to clinch their first outright district championship since 2015, the Wildcats seized a 27-24 lead with 1:41 left on an 8-yard touchdown run by sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot.
The Grey Wolves still had an opportunity to drive down for a winning touchdown or a tying field goal, and they faced a fourth-and-1 scenario at their 45-yard line with a minute remaining. Again, it was Brown who got the ball. And again, it was Shorter who rose to the occasion – this time with some help from his friends.
Shorter, Taylor and sophomore reserve tackle Jaylon Jackson combined to corral Brown, dropping him for a 1-yard loss and a dramatic turnover on downs that sealed Temple's rewarding victory.
“We needed it. It was pretty crazy. When I saw the fourth-and-1, I knew they were going to give it to Devin Brown again,” Shorter said. “I think it's great for my guy Jaylon, his first year on varsity as a sophomore. That's a great experience. And Jayven, I'm happy he was back there. He's a beast.”
CLAMP CREW: Temple sophomore tackle Jaylon Jackson (left), junior end Eric Shorter and senior nose tackle Jayven Taylor combined to tackle Killeen Shoemaker's Devin Brown for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 with one minute remaining, sealing the Wildcats' 27-24 road win over the Grey Wolves on Nov. 19 at Leo Buckley Stadium. That victory clinched Temple's outright District 12-6A championship. It was the second straight season that Shorter tackled Brown on a crucial fourth-down play to aid a Wildcats comeback victory against the Grey Wolves. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Stewart described Shorter's game as a blend of physical attributes and natural instincts.
“He's really good off his first step. He can see if a guy that's way bigger than him is fixing to pass-protect him, and some of that is instinctual. We talk all the time about how true instincts are like breathing – you don't have to think about it,” Stewart said. “When you talk about football instincts, to me that's something you do thousands and thousands of times until it becomes second nature. And you can tell he's played a lot of basketball and he's played a lot of a lot of stuff, because his anticipatory reflex is really, really up there.”
As of late this past summer, there was uncertainty as to whether Shorter would play varsity football for Temple this season. In January, he, his twin sister, Erin, and their mother, Amy Autry, moved into the Belton school district to live with other family members. He joined the Tigers' junior varsity basketball team and scored a game-high 22 points in a home loss to his old school, Temple.
But Shorter said he “didn't like it over there” and didn't get a good feeling about potentially playing in Belton's football program. After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the remainder of the in-person academic year and school sports in March, his family moved back into the Temple school district in June. There was a chance that Shorter would not be allowed to play varsity football for Temple as a junior, but in August the 12-6A District Executive Committee voted unanimously to rule him eligible for varsity competition.
“I was scared that they weren't going to approve me to come back to (varsity) sports. But honestly, if I had to play JV this year, I would've played JV, because this is where I grew up,” Shorter said. “Me and Taurean, we came into (the varsity level) together. When I left for Belton, that really kind of hurt me. I fell out of shape (during the time away). When I came back, I wasn't the same at first, but I already knew they were going to get me right again.”
Shorter, who turned 18 last month, wants to play college football after his 2022 graduation but has concerns that recruiters will overlook him because of his small stature for a defensive end.
“I've stayed that height (5-8½) for like two years now,” said Shorter, who was born in Victoria, moved from El Campo to Temple around age 2 and was introduced to football at age 6 by his uncle Jose.
Shorter plans to join Temple's varsity basketball team whenever the Wildcats' run in the football playoffs concludes, which he hopes isn't “until we hold up the state championship (trophy)” in mid-January at Arlington's AT&T Stadium. That's where Temple beat state-ranked Longview 40-13 in its Sept. 25 season opener, avenging a 41-10 road loss to the then-unbeaten Lobos in last year's first-round playoff game in which a slew of youthful Wildcat defenders such as Shorter, York and Torres absorbed vital on-the-job experience.
“I wanted revenge,” Shorter said of the Longview rematch. “I didn't like the taste when we got knocked out in the first round last year. (The coaches said) 'Remember this taste, because we've got another chance at it.' We're a lot better this year.”
Shorter has seven sisters and two brothers. His twin sister Erin is a Temple student trainer who's on the sideline, supporting her brother and the Wildcats.
“Every game she's there with me,” said Shorter, who's also planning to play baseball – he's a catcher, third baseman and pitcher – and compete in powerlifting. He said his main motivation academically is to remain eligible for sports, but he takes pride in his responsibilities as a student-athlete and is liking his Algebra II class.
A big part of Shorter's desire to become a Temple football player came from when he was in seventh grade, watching the 2016 Wildcats – including star defensive lineman Ta'Quon Graham (Texas) – reach the 5A Division I state championship game in Stewart's first season as head coach.
“I used to watch the 2016 group. I really looked up to those guys, wearing the blue-front, white-back (pants) and how they played,” Shorter said.
Based on how he's played during his two stellar seasons wearing those same traditional and distinctive trousers, there probably are some current Temple seventh-grade players hoping to eventually become a go-to standout like Shorter.
“He likes to be involved, and he loves competition. I think part of that is just that proverbial chip on the shoulder from being a smaller guy,” Stewart said. “He doesn't exude that in a negative manner. He wants to play defensive line because people look at him and think he's not a defensive lineman. Go watch him run bases. Go watch him on the basketball court. He's tenacious. I don't know how good he is, but he plays so hard.
“Some kids just have that. He understands the purpose of practice. He practices hard. He plays hard. Just everything he does, he does hard.”
For the relentless Shorter, the Tasmanian devil of Temple, summoning that non-stop energy is, well, not that hard.