Cecil Shorts paying more than his dues in NFL

If he can get healthy and back to full speed, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver and Cleveland native Cecil Shorts III has a chance to post his first 1,000-yard receiving season.

That would put him in pretty good company.

It would also make him — he’s quite sure — the NFL’s only 1,000-yard receiver who’s paying student loans.

It was during a casual conversation with some Jaguars teammates that Shorts revealed he had in the neighborhood of $50,000 in student loans from his time at Mount Union, which competes at the Div. III, non-scholarship level. He said most of his teammates were stunned when the topic was broached; a few even insisted he was lying.

“They all had scholarships,” Shorts said. “They didn’t get it at first.”

The highest draft pick ever from Mount Union, Shorts is proud of his roots and especially proud of the juggernaut that is Mount Union football. He anxiously and nervously tweeted throughout Mount Union’s come-from-behind national semifinal win last Saturday, and he’s made sure everyone in the Jaguars locker room knows the Purple Raiders played for their 11th Div. III national title Friday night (they won the title, beating St. Thomas 28-10).

“They get tired of me talking about Mount Union,” Shorts said. “Very tired.”

That doesn’t stop him.

A quarterback at Collinwood High School in Cleveland, Shorts said Div. I recruiters called but most never called back. He chose Mount Union for its winning tradition, and in his time there he played both sides of the ball and just about every position.

The Jaguars drafted him in the fourth round in 2011, and 2012 has been his personal breakout season. He missed last week due to injury, but he enters the last three games of the season with 824 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

His hope is to return this week, finish strong and then get back to accomplishing another goal.

Shorts is “just a couple classes short” of finishing his degree in health and physical education. He used the 2011 winter semester to concentrate on the draft, but he returned to campus last winter and took a full load — five classes — and blended in with the student population, working out with the football team and working toward what he calls “a very important piece” of his resume, his college degree.

“I’d come into my office and find an NFL wide receiver sitting there, wanting to talk,” Mount Union basketball coach Mike Fuline said. “He was our team’s biggest supporter. His passion and love for this university are unmatched.

“Cecil is a great young man, the kind you root for on and off the field. He’s a true role model for our student-athletes.”

Shorts said his parents were on him “very heavy” about finishing his degree, and he understands the importance of getting it for his post-football career and to set an example for his young son, Cecil IV. He said completing his degree and getting his loans paid off will allow him to be an example in the Jaguars’ locker room as his career progresses.

“In the NFL, small-school guys kind of have our own fraternity,” Shorts said. “Maybe there’s a little more respect between guys who didn’t play in the big conferences or in front of 100,000 people every week. I tell guys in our locker room, I’m used to buying my own gloves and cleats.

“I miss the closeness at Mount Union. Guys stuck together. We worked as hard as anybody, all the time. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but instead of getting those scholarship checks we’d have jobs in the offseason.”

Shorts said he worked on the campus maintenance and landscaping staff, and officiated intramural basketball games as part of his work-study program. Twice, he said, he applied for a job at the local Subway. He didn’t get it either time.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” he said, laughing.

During the lockout in the months after he was drafted, he worked long hours installing roofs. His breakout season should ensure he can spend the offseason on his studies and his chosen craft, football.

“I’ll be back at Mount Union as soon as I can,” he said, “and I’ll be working like I always have.”