When his NFL career ended, Connor Shaw’s competitive streak didn’t go away. Now, the record-setting University of South Carolina quarterback has found a new outlet for that drive — and his desire to help people.
Shaw, the winningest quarterback in USC history with 27 victories behind center, has joined Columbia-based insurance company Colonial Life as a sales representative in the Upstate and the Midlands.
“I’ve been a part of the game since I was 6 years old,” Shaw said. “I think for any athlete, walking away from it for the last time is difficult. But at the same time, when you know, you know. I had three consecutive years on injured reserve, and my body is thanking me that I’m not playing anymore.”
Shaw, who also leads the Gamecocks in career completion percentage (65.5%), showed flashes of the abilities that thrilled fans at Williams-Brice Stadium at the next level, but couldn’t stay healthy.
He played in one NFL game, making a 2014 start for the Cleveland Browns in which he completed 14 of 28 passes for 177 yards, then spent 2015 rehabbing a thumb injury before being signed by the Chicago Bears in 2016.
Last September, Shaw reached an injury settlement with the Bears after hurting his foot. In January, he was hired as tight ends coach at Furman University, but left that position in July for what was announced as a private business opportunity.
“I’ve got my flexibility to spend more time with my family,” said Shaw, who has two young children with wife Molly. “I enjoyed coaching, but at that level, you’re so limited with the amount of time you’re actually able to spend time with the players. It’s a lot of recruiting. It’s a lot of being away from the family. I’ve got a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, and I value that too much to make that sacrifice right now.”
Shaw was familiar with Colonial Life, a sponsor of USC sports and namesake of the Gamecocks’ basketball arena, from his playing days. He also struck up a friendship with Colonial Life district sales manager Graem Clark while in Chicago.
“I think he started realizing that the shelf life of an NFL quarterback wasn’t forever and started looking at what he would do afterwards,” Clark said. “He wanted to have some flexibility with his family, so I think he looked at sales as an opportunity where he could really balance family life and do some of the other things he wanted to do and also build a successful business.”
Colonial Life sells supplemental insurance products, including accident, disability, cancer and critical illness policies, to more than 80,000 businesses nationwide.
“We’re helping people,” Shaw said. “People can’t afford not to have some sort of coverage so they can protect themselves and their families when they need it the most. I think that’s what I really enjoy, is just being some sort of an assist for these families, for these employees and businesses.”
Colonial Life CEO Tim Arnold immediately welcomed Shaw’s instantly recognizable name and has come to appreciate the personality behind it.
“He’s one of the most down-to-earth people that you’ll ever be around, especially considering how much he’s accomplished at such a young age and the star power he has,” Arnold said.
Shaw, an independent contractor like all Colonial Life salespeople, has been working to establish his Greenville-based business for about a month.
“It’s been a bit overwhelming at times, but I’ll say this: I have a lot of great people around me,” Shaw said. “I’m in the Upstate, so I’m probably more focused on that, but I’m in the Midlands probably once a week. I just got back from Myrtle Beach. I’m here and there.”
Wherever he goes, it’s a safe bet Shaw’s name opens a few doors.
“You run into a bunch of Gamecocks, which certainly helps, even here in the Upstate. There’s a bunch of Clemson Tigers, but they’re not all bad,” Shaw said with a laugh. “I just think having that common ground — we are in the South, where football reigns — I think that may give me some sort of advantage. It’s a lot of fun to go in and talk about football for 20 minutes and then get into it.”
While his name might provide an instant connection, the former quarterback brings the tools to build on that, Clark said.
“What’s really surprised me has been his work ethic, just how hard he’s out working every day,” Clark said. “I had no question that he would, but just seeing him doing it in practice just really kind of caught me off-guard. You see this persona on television and in the media about his humility and all that, but then when you see him in person, you just realize it’s the real him.”
Shaw said his football career taught him leadership ability he calls upon in his new job. He also learned how to work with a diverse group of individuals toward the same goal.
“Everyone’s path is not the same. People have different approaches. But we all sort of come together and collaborate together and help each other out,” Shaw said. “ … I miss being in the locker room, but I’m certainly excited about this new chapter.”
This article first appeared in the Oct. 22 print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report.