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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Will Shipley Just Keeps Running

February 10, 2020


The legend of Weddington (N.C.) running back Will Shipley‍ started with running.

Not a complete surprise, right?

But what if it started at a Field Day that included a band, MC and a DJ?

"He would kill the 40-yard dash," Will’s mother Tammy Shipley recalls. "There was so much hoopla surrounding Field Day. It was almost like Christmas Day at our elementary school. It was like a huge party. Every parent would be there and it was awesome.

"Since kindergarten, he would be running the 40-yard dash and he would smoke everyone. It was fun to watch and people got hyped up about it. I always thought it was really fun to see him be so fast. He had a lot of enthusiasm about it as well."

The Field Day domination jump-started the youngster in his athletic career along with his older brother, James, who currently plays lacrosse at the University of Pennsylvania.

"He always excelled through Pop Warner, lacrosse and in his basketball leagues early on," says Shipley's father, James. "He always played up with his older brother and it pushed him. That drove him to compete as a younger brother wanting to beat his older brother."


As with any younger brother, Shipley was running after his sibling and trying to match achievements even though he was two years younger.

The competitive nature also likely comes from his parents.

"He's super competitive," states Mr. Shipley. "We're both really competitive and always have been whether it's in sports or other things we do. It's a drive he has inside him and I would love to say it comes from his parents, but I'm not sure where it comes from.

"This is a dad and mom speaking, so we're obviously biased to our kids, but he's as competitive as anyone I've ever seen. I've coached a lot of young kids and watched sports growing up. He's got a real edge to him when it comes to competing against other people."


As a middle-schooler, Shipley met an opponent outside of his older brother at the World Series of Youth Lacrosse in Denver.

Enter Tyler Buchner‍.

Notre Dame fans should be familiar with the name as Buchner is the jewel of the 2021 recruiting class.

Perhaps it was just a lucky roll of the dice the two prospects met in Denver, but it quickly turned into a rivalry.

"To have a Charlotte kid connect with a California kid playing in a lacrosse tournament in Denver - that doesn't happen every day," explains Mr. Shipley. "I think Tyler was the best player there. They got to compete in the speed content - a 40-yard dash for the tournament.

"They were two of the final four. Will edged him out and it couldn't have been by more than a centimeter. I think Tyler beat him in the speed shooting competition and then Will beat him in the 40."

Irish Sports Daily
Tyler Buchner and Will Shipley

The fierce competition between Buchner and Shipley is something both families joke about, but at the time, neither player knew the loss ate at the other.

In fact, it was Buchner, a former Michigan lacrosse commit, who scored the first scholarship offer in the 2021 class as an eighth-grader.

"At the time, lacrosse was recruiting really early," says Mr. Shipley. "Tyler was one of the first kids in the class to get an offer in eighth grade to Michigan. That just ate Will up. He and Tyler knew each other through Social Media and this event, but from a competitive perspective, Will was disappointed he didn't get the first offer in the 2021 lacrosse class."

Lacrosse might have been the priority for both kids at the time, but both are doing just fine in the present.

"I'm speaking for Will, but I bet both of them thought lacrosse was their future even though they were good at football," Mr. Shipley says. "I know Will probably couldn't fathom playing on Saturdays at possibly some of the top universities in the country."


Growing up in the Shipley household, sports weren't put on a pedestal. Faith, family and education took the top spots and that includes a love of homework by at least one family member.

"Let's be honest," Mr. Shipley laughs. "My wife loves homework. I've never been a homework guy. We've been very focused on grades in our family from day one. That's something Tammy and I chose when the kids were born that was going to be a huge priority for us.

"With Tammy's job allowing her to work from home a lot of the time, she's been on top of keeping them motivated with their grades."

The 5-foot-11, 198-pound Shipley's drive to excel in the classroom might be mom-driven, but it also goes back to the quality of academics he experiences on a daily basis.

"We have a fantastic pipeline of teachers at Weddington," Mrs. Shipley explains. "I can't imagine a better set up here. It's a public school, but it's a top-tier education and in line with any education you can get anywhere. The teachers care so much and I'm just backing it up. He's getting really good stuff in the classroom.

"They've both always loved school, so we've been lucky."

Mrs. Shipley reinforces Shipley's teachers at home and they reinforce the base of family values on campus.

The support has allowed Shipley to take off and run in the classroom. 

"We've been in the Weddington community and it's a cool set up in Union County," Mr. Shipley says. "The elementary, middle school and high school are all on one campus. The elementary and middle school teachers know the high school teachers and coaches. They mingle and the high school is separated from middle and elementary school by the football field. The teachers Will and James have been incredibly special to our family.

"They still see him in church and sporting events. The teacher who led Will the day he won the 40 in fourth grade is one he still talks to often. It's a close community and education is a big focus."


The other core value in the Shipley house is faith. Each day starts with a devotional and then it's off to start the day.

"James has read devotionals with them since they were three years old," Mrs. Shipley says. "They get up and come in and read a devotional and pray together before school. Sometimes you feel us rushing through it like any family would if you're busy, but it's consistent and it's been every day.

"Will doesn't really second-guess it."

Many of the devotionals come from former NFL head coach Tony Dungy, which allows for faith and sports to be a common ground.

"We've instilled a faith foundation and it's always been part of our family," Mr. Shipley explains. "That's very important to us. From day one, we've built the architecture of our family around faith and family, then education, sports and then social.
Will Shipley

“We've emphasized that since they were five years old. They've taken it seriously and both our boys are at the age where they take on their own path with faith."

Those lessons have become crucial points for the Shipley brothers.

"They're going to go down a lot of different paths," says Mr. Shipley. "They're 17 and 19 years old. We wanted to develop something by the time they turned 16-17 years old to go into the world and be themselves and have something to fall back on.

"That was family, faith and a good education. Sports only lasts so long. What happens after sports, you want to have a good family, good faith and a good education. It's not really rocket science, but that's what we've focused on."


For many prospects, it's easy to get caught up in the highs and lows of recruiting, but the foundation has been laid for Shipley to flourish.

"I would say it's been a really good growth experience," Mrs. Shipley offers. "He's taking it on like a job. He's taken it on himself to research different schools and coaches.

"You're always a little nervous when your kid is getting interviewed at a young age and you don't know what he's going to say or if people will be genuine or use things against him."

Shipley is a kid who smiles through the phone and through the attention of his recruitment, he's grown away from the football field in several aspects of his life.

"He's always enjoyed it so much that it's turned out really well," states Mrs. Shipley. "I've seen him grow as a public speaker and in his confidence. He leads our teams in prayer and sometimes there are 300 people eating together.

"That's pretty big for a kid to get up there and pray in front of that many people. He looks for opportunities that he might not have before the process began. If anything, it's made him into a better person."

And the smile? Well, it comes from his mother.

"That absolutely comes from his mom," laughed Mr. Shipley. "She's the half-glass-full always with them. A lot of his personality comes from Tammy."


It might be the second recruitment for the Shipley family, but they've kept it simple.

Well, as simple as you can when Duke sends its entire coaching staff to the high school along with appearances from Brian Kelly, Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney... on the same day.

"You manage the process and don't let the process manage you," explains Mr. Shipley. "I think what happens in the recruiting world is so out of control with the access to the kids through Social Media and things of that nature whether it's the media outlets, the schools themselves or alumni. You can really let the process control you."

James’ recruitment didn't last too long, but having a plan and a firm grasp on the process has helped guide them in recent months.

"We went through this with our older son in lacrosse and probably would have gone through it in football with Will," said Mr. Shipley. "James committed September of his sophomore year, so it ended really quickly for him.

"Sometimes, the process controls the kid and the family instead of the family controlling the process. We took the bull by the horns early on and put objectives together that we were going to focus on.

"It's worked out. It's bigger than it's ever been and going through it with Will has been an experience. He almost manages more of it than we do at this stage."

And that's Will Shipley. Just running.

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