Note: The following appears in the Wake Forest football gameday program.
Will Shipley has been surrounded by sports his entire life. Not only did he play football, lacrosse, basketball and run track throughout his youth, his mother, father and brother all played college athletics as well. Sports are in the Shipley family’s blood. Even so, it has been a road filled with hard work and obstacles for Will to get to where he is today. That road has not always been a straight one, either. In fact, there was a time when it seemed like football would not be the sport he played in college.
“Early on, I actually thought I’d play lacrosse in college because that was where I was getting the most attention at the time in middle school. Obviously, that would change.”
Change it did, as Shipley quickly became a force at running back for Weddington (N.C.) High School.
“I got my first football offer after my ninth grade football season, and that’s when I truly became committed to the football track.”
Shipley dominated all through high school en route to becoming a five-star prospect. It has been well-documented that he received various scholarship offers from top-tier football powerhouses throughout the country, but that did not mean his decision came easy. The pandemic made his recruiting process extremely unorthodox due to the restrictions put in place by the NCAA.
“During my junior year when I began narrowing down my decisions, that’s when COVID hit. That made the decision process a bit tougher on my end. Ultimately, I fell in love with Clemson and how much emphasis it puts on not only shaping its players as athletes, but also as men. It also really impressed me how family-oriented the coaches were. After I wasn’t allowed to visit anymore (due to COVID-19), I talked to my family a lot and went to God. He ultimately gave Clemson as the answer for me.”
When Shipley first arrived on Clemson’s campus during his freshman year in 2021, there were many teammates who made him feel welcome right away. Former Tiger wide receiver Will Brown was one teammate he mentioned whose mentorship stood out.
“Will Brown was someone who I really looked up to and helped shape me during my college career. He always prioritized God and was one of the hardest-working guys on the field, which was really who I strived to be. He was someone who I would go to for advice.”
Brown exemplified how important leadership is to any team, which has stuck with Shipley to this day. Brown was one of the many veterans at the time who encouraged Shipley and his peers to go out of their way whenever possible to assist younger teammates.
“We want to help them as much as we can with anything that comes up, whether it’s juggling the balance of time management between football and schoolwork or making sure they are connecting with family and friends while they’re here. I’m always willing to help out and use my experience as a tool if any of the guys need it.”
While Shipley is still in his junior season, there have already been many experiences at Clemson that have stood out to him. Among those was his freshman-year performance against Florida State, when he had 128 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
“One of my favorite memories on the football field so far is our game against Florida State during my freshman year. It was an unbelievable atmosphere. I remember scoring the game-winning touchdown, and it really felt like that was my breakout game.”
While he certainly has plenty of notable performances on the field to this point, Shipley was quick to show appreciation for his teammates and how integral they have been to his college experience.
“Off the field, the relationships I’ve been able to build are as important as anything. I have some of the best friends in the world. Guys like Phil Mafah, Jake Briningstool, Marcus Tate, Beaux Collins and so many others. These guys are like family to me. We always have each other’s backs.”
Shipley has had some amazing experiences to this point in his Tiger career, but that does not mean there has not been adversity. It is no secret that the Tigers suffered some difficult losses in the early going this season, but Shipley is adamant that these challenges do not alter the focus of him or anyone on the team.
“Every piece of adversity can be used to learn and help us prepare for the future. Each week is its own season. You have to treat each game like it’s the national championship. That’s how we prepare every week.”
Preparation is key for Shipley and the Tigers. Especially as a running back, there is a lot he needs to do on a daily basis to keep fresh, both mentally and physically.
“I try to get up as early as I can and spend as much time as possible in the training room. It’s important to get in there to train and get the physical therapy I need for any bruises or injuries from the previous week. As far as the mental side, the biggest thing is staying on my walk with God. He always gives me a refresher and allows me to keep a sound mental state so I can go out there and perform each week.”
Another key piece to the Tigers’ preparation has been new Offensive Coordinator Garrett Riley, whom Shipley had high praise for.
“It’s been so great working with Coach Riley, even better than expected, which is saying a lot because of how successful he has been in his career. His poise and ability to act the same in every situation impresses me the most. Guys know what they’re getting with him. He’s so consistent and always prepared.”
In the ACC, the competition is fierce. Shipley realizes how difficult it is to be effective in this league, and he believes that proper preparation is what elevates those with talent into stars.
“At this level, the difference in talent and margin for error is so small. That’s where the hard work comes in, and that really differentiates a lot of guys. Being mentally and physically prepared to put in that extra work each week that others aren’t prepared to do is key to being successful in this league.”
Ultimately, Shipley will be prepared for it all. He has high expectations for himself even after his college career, both on the field and off it.
“My number-one goal is to continue my walk with Jesus Christ. I also want to create a family of my own and provide for them. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I want to make it to the NFL. That’s something I have dreamed about since I was a kid. Ideally, I’d also like to get involved with the business world after a football career. As a business management major, it would be really special for me to work with brands and companies that I love.”
Shipley is certainly on the right track. Not only is he one of college football’s most talented and exciting running backs, he is on track to graduate in just 2.5 years and, if all goes to plan, with a cumulative 4.0 GPA.
Shipley is an intelligent young man with a bright future in many ways. No matter what stands in his way, one thing is for certain…he will give it his all in everything he does.