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College Football: Steady Sam

Sam Shafer recorded a decisive pick-6 against UW-Oshkosh on Saturday, Oct. 27, in UW-Steven Point's 27-14 upset win over the Titans, and has consistently been a factor in the Pointers' 2018 success. Photo courtesy of Jalen Knuteson1 / 3
“The thing I like about Sam is that we know what we’re going to get from him day in and day out,” UW-Stevens Point's head coach Greg Breitbach said. “He’s as physical a football player as we have on our football team. We trust him schematically to be the quarterback of our defense back there at safety." Photo courtesy of Jalen Knuteson2 / 3
UW-Stevens Point's Sam Shafer is second on the Pointers' team in tackles with 62 and has two of his team's 15 interceptions. Photo courtesy of Jalen Knuteson3 / 3

The decision to open-enroll from Prescott to River Falls in fifth grade continues to impact Sam Shafer.

The junior safety for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Pointers put the decisive points on the board when they pulled off a 27-21 upset over the UW-Oshkosh Titans on Sat., Oct. 27. The Titans were the preseason favorite to win the WIAC football title.

Following his sister Meghan, a 2012 graduate of River Falls High School, when she open-enrolled ensured that he would continue to be able to play high school hockey. He was primarily a defenseman and, as he tells it, he was a defensive defenseman at that.

"I'd sit back and let everything develop in front of me," Shafer said. "I hadn't played safety until I got to college, but I always wondered if it would be similar and the vision (needed in hockey) transferred over and really helped."

Against the Titans, Shafer read the quarterback's eyes and broke on a pass in the flat to intercept it and returned it 47 yards to take a 27-14 lead with 13 minutes, 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

"It was a great feeling celebrating with all the boys and knowing that I had a lot of family and friends there," Shafer said. "It was a big moment; we felt pretty good but we knew we still had to keep our heads and take care of business."

The pick-6 earned him UW-Stevens Point player of the week honors.

The win was the first signature victory for first-year head coach Greg Breitbach, who was hired in June.

"It's awesome; coach Breitbach is a stud," Shafer said. "He's all about football philosophy and having a great culture. This has been a really fun year, it's the best we've had by far. Guys are excited to work hard every day when we come to practice and we're definitely doing that."

"(Culture) is absolutely the first and foremost thing you have to do with any program," Breitbach said. "You have to decide who you're going to be and how you're going to do that in year one. Yes, you want more wins than losses, but more importantly, you have to set the standard for how we're going to operate on a day-to-day basis."

It was a win the Pointers (3-6, 2-4 WIAC) hoped to carry forward as they attempt to return to the WIAC-title fold. UW-Stevens Point has 14 WIAC championships, but the last time the program was crowned was in 2008.

The exaltation of knocking off the Titans was washed away one week later by a 59-7 loss to the fifth-ranked UW-Whitewater Warhawks (9-0, 6-0) on Sat., Nov. 3. Kevin Bullis, the head coach for the Warhawks and former UW-River Falls coach from 1990-2007, said the upset caught the attention of the entire league.

"That's a legendary victory," Bullis said. "I've been part of this league since 1990 and there have been a lot of legendary victories and that is definitely one. They deserve a lot of credit."

Shafer is consistently in the middle of the success as he is second on the team in tackles with 62 and two of the team's 15 interceptions.

"The thing I like about Sam is that we know what we're going to get from him day in and day out," Breitbach said. "He's as physical a football player as we have on our football team. We trust him schematically to be the quarterback of our defense back there at safety. He's going to bring it every day in practice and in games. He loves the game of football and I respect the way he goes about his business."

Next up for Shafer and the Pointers is a trip to UW-River Falls to take on the Falcons (3-6, 1-5) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

"We go into every week with a great game plan; our coaches do a great job getting us prepared," Shafer said. "If you look at our record, you don't see the close games or the games we've lost where it was just an interception or a fumble that changed things. It really has been two or three plays in some of our losses that have gone against us."