By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- Shawn Lloyd knows the deal.
For the Shenandoah University senior quarterback, Saturday's road game at Washington & Lee boils down to this -- the last chance of his second chance.
Lloyd will be starting under center for the Hornets on Saturday in Lexington, looking to help his team to end the season on a positive note and snap a nine-game losing streak. It's a spot Lloyd may have had trouble envisioning last year -- maybe even a few weeks ago. This season, in some ways, has been a reflection of Lloyd's college career.
"There's a lot of highs and lows about it," Lloyd said. "One thing I can take away from this season is it's matured me in knowing that [nothing] is just given to you."
A highly-touted high school quarterback at Alexandria's Thomas Edison, Lloyd first played collegiately at Ferrum in 2007. After sitting out a season to retain eligibility, he moved on to Shenandoah. After two years as a backup, Lloyd left the program before the 2011 season. It was a decision he soon regretted, one he wasn't sure he'd be able to correct. Ultimately, Hornets offensive coordinator Brian Wolf convinced head coach Paul Barnes to give Lloyd one more chance.
"In the past I kind of shot myself in the foot with off-season things, off-the-field things, not taking care of business," Lloyd said. "I tried to come back a couple times before last summer, when I was called back, and I was kind of told that we have to see about me as a person and where the team is."
Barnes wanted to see maturity, in all facets. This season, Lloyd has delivered on all counts. Called on to bail out the Hornets in the season opener against Stevenson, Lloyd rallied Shenandoah to a 26-16 victory. Lloyd started the next two weeks against Ferrum and Christopher Newport, struggling in both, before heading back to the sideline to resume a backup role behind Corey Taylor. At one point, Lloyd fell to third string behind Taylor and opening-game starter Phillip Gardner. Taylor is injured and out for the season, Gardner has since left the program, and Lloyd is left to run the offense.
"I think Shawn is very appreciative about the situation, whether he's first string or third string," Barnes said. "I don't think it really does bother Shawn, one way or the other."
Lloyd is just happy to be part of the team again.
"I wanted to come back just to play ball," Lloyd said. "I wasn't really worried about if I was going to be the starter. I did want to play -- I mean, everybody wants to play. But being the starter wasn't really my concern. I just wanted to come out and help the team the best way that I could."
Back in a starting role last week, Lloyd helped Shenandoah (1-9, 0-6 Old Dominion Athletic Conference) nearly pull off an upset on the road at Emory & Henry. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 105 yards with one interception in what Barnes called "his best game of the year."
With another week to let that starting status sink in, Lloyd is feeling more comfortable. Freshman Tyler Dement, a converted wide receiver who has yet to attempt a collegiate pass, is listed as the backup this week.
"I think it takes a lot of pressure off me, mentally, as far as the game," Lloyd said of starting. "I don't have that walking-on-eggshells feeling."
In seven games this season, Lloyd has completed 41 of 105 passes for 405 yards with two touchdowns and eight interceptions. The numbers aren't pretty, but Lloyd has often been in tough spots, called on to relieve an injured starter or trying to rally the Hornets from a deficit.
"Shawn has been, to me, the most consistent QB that we have had all year," Shenandoah senior center Chris Lewis said. "Corey [Taylor], definitely, is the most talented QB we have -- he's the young talent. Shawn's a little bit older guy, so he has the experience. He knows how to take control of the huddle, he knows how to fill in the pocket at QB."
Lloyd knows Saturday's game is that one last shot to go out with a flourish, but regardless of the final score he's already won in the classroom. A double major in General Kinesiology and Criminal Justice, Lloyd is scheduled to graduate next month.
"Just a lot of people back home didn't really think I was college material," Lloyd said. "For me to be able to graduate with two college degrees and still be able play college football as well is very cool."
FRESH LEGS: Andrew Smith was tired last Saturday, the oxygen-gulping, lungs-burning variety. He loved every minute of it.
A freshman running back, Smith had his most productive game of the season for the Hornets with 127 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. It was also his heaviest workload to date -- 33 carries.
"I'm not going to lie, I was tired but as soon as I knew the ball was coming to me I just quickly went into the mind set of 'OK, you can't be tired anymore. Let's go back to work,'" Smith said. "But when I came off to the sideline, I was gasping for air."
Smith isn't the only freshman making an impact for Shenandoah. Jake Payne has been impressive all season rotating in at defensive end, Michael Messick has filled in admirably at linebacker, Bayvon Young got a start at cornerback last week, wide receiver Troy Baldwin returned from injury to give the Hornets another weapon in the passing game, and Dustin Edwards has been a solid contributor on the offensive line. Barnes said about nine freshmen have been consistent contributors this season, leading a recruiting class the Hornets' 11th-year coach considers among the best in school history.
Smith has been as valuable as any of them. Splitting time all season with senior Carl Joseph (team-high 531 rushing yards), Smith has rushed for 461 yards on 108 carries with a team-high seven touchdowns.
"Andrew is starting to blossom into a really good running back," Barnes said. "He really did some things well -- he blocked well, he carried the ball well and he ran hard. Boy, did he run hard."
BETTER THAN EVER?: Junior linebacker Josh Rogers has been hard to miss on the field for the Hornets in recent weeks -- the bulky brace on his left elbow made him easy to pick out of a crowd.
Rogers, who originally injured the elbow during SU's loss to Catholic on Oct. 12, came back the very next week to play the second half against Hampden-Sydney. The brace was still on when Rogers returned to the starting lineup the following week against Randolph-Macon, and again last week against Emory & Henry.
"It kind of restricted me from tackling -- I missed a lot of tackles throughout the games and stuff, but that doesn't give me an excuse for missing the tackle," Rogers said. "I've just got to run through it."
Rogers, who ranks second on the team with 77 tackles, finally shed that cumbersome brace at practice on Tuesday and he's hoping it's gone for good. In one sense, though, the injury might have done some long-term good for Rogers.
"It's still a little sore," Rogers said. "I think I still have a bone bruise. But actually, the trainer said it's stronger than my right arm now because the scar tissue or whatever helped build the muscle back up. My right arm hyper-extends -- he said that's bad -- but my left arm doesn't do that."
Contact sports editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137, or firstname.lastname@example.org