LAS CRUCES – At first glance, wide receiver Adam Shapiro is steady if unspectacular on the football field, a consistent presence if not a firecracker.
In demeanor, the Rio Rancho native is much of the same: understated in approach, measured in his answers.
Such an approach is what makes Shapiro who he is, because it’s a contrast to much of his profile.
His high school career didn’t exactly start our with a resounding bang. Shapiro said that as an eighth-grader, he stood at just 5-foot-1; as a freshman at Rio Rancho High School he said he grew to about 5-foot-6, maybe 110 pounds. Such size isn’t necessarily conducive to the rigors of tackle football.
“I played on the ninth grade team. Didn’t score a touchdown,” Shapiro said. “Average guy. Little. Smaller than everybody else. … I was a late bloomer for sure.”
By his senior season with the Rams, Shapiro was a standout. He set New Mexico high school records during the 2010 campaign, recording 93 receptions for 1,672 yards and 14 touchdowns, teaming with former Rams teammate (and current New Mexico Lobo) Jeric Magnant at wide receiver to lead Rio Rancho to the state playoffs.
“I would say he went from timid to tenacious,” Rams head coach Dave Howes said. “Night and day. By his senior year, he wanted the ball in his hands.”
Said his high school offensive coordinator Carl Bruere, “You always knew he had ability. But he was raw, he was small. He had a vision, but it took a while for him to figure it out. But he had a great work ethic, and he was able to see it through.”
Some could draw parallels to Shapiro’s growth in the college game.
His freshman and sophomore seasons saw him put together respectable preseason practices, yet he wasn’t ready for consistent playing time. Shapiro took the field three times in 2011 and twice more in 2012, catching two passes for 15 yards during that period.
Last year, however, he emerged as a reliable performer. He played all 12 games for the Aggies, notching 35 catches for 331 yards. He scored four touchdowns – two on receptions, two on rushing attempts – while displaying attributes such as good hands, toughness and savvy on the field.
“He goes hard every single play,” said Aggies wide receivers coach R. Todd Littlejohn. “It means a lot to him, and he competes. So I’m excited to where he’s grown and where I think he can continue to go.”
Littlejohn said, while the senior has been known for his speed, NMSU’s assistant coach – who’s tutored the likes of Jonte Green and Davon House at cornerback, as well as Austin Franklin at wide receiver – said Shapiro’s mission over recent years is to become a more well-rounded player at the position.
Littlejohn said that while Shapiro is known for his speed, “I want him to be a complete receiver. Versus just a run-down-the field guy. So he’s really working on cleaning up and being a more polished receiver. Route running, getting off press. Those types of things.”
Franklin’s departure as a junior who declared this offseason for the NFL Draft has left the team with a hole to fill. While the Aggies return an experienced unit overall – Shapiro, Josh Bowen, Jerrel Brown, Joseph Matthews and Jordan Bergstrom are all returning players from a season ago – the Aggies hope to fill the big-play void that Franklin provided the offense.
And while Littlejohn said first-year players Gregory Hogan and Teldrick Morgan have potential in that regard, he also said each member of the unit must step up.
“One of the things I said to the group was, ‘No. 4 isn’t here anymore,”‘ Littlejohn said, referring to Franklin’s presence. “Each year, you have to find someone or someones to fill a void for a playmaker. Whether he was a senior, whether he went out early, there’s nobody else coming in. So somebody in the group absolutely now has to establish themselves as the guy. My expectations for (Shapiro), obviously, are to not so much fill that void, because, again, Austin was a different player. But, he has to produce, numbers-wise. And other guys have to fill that void, production-wise.”
Shapiro echoed those thoughts. “We feel like our receiving corps is really experienced and really strong this year. We’re hoping that we can get it done on the field.”