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Football and Academics Run Deep in the Shah Family

Former Utes safety and now cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah has the rare opportunity to watch his son, Sharrieff Junior, play in his defense, as a linebacker under defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Kalani Sitake.

Utah sophomore linebacker Sharrieff Shah Jr has the footprints of his father, former Utes safety Sharrieff Shah Sr, to follow.
Utah sophomore linebacker Sharrieff Shah Jr has the footprints of his father, former Utes safety Sharrieff Shah Sr, to follow.
University of Utah Athletics

You often hear the phrase "like father, like son" in sports, and that also applies to the Utah football team. One such father-son duo is cornerbacks coach Sharrief Shah and his son, sophomore linebacker, Sharrieff Shah Jr., a transfer from Utah State.

The elder Shah was a successful strong safety for Utah (1990-1993), as an all-WAC honorable mention safety in his sophomore and junior seasons before a career ending neck injury ended his playing career in his senior season. Shah still holds the Utes' record for sacks in a game (four) and is second all-time in tackles for loss in a game (five) and tackles for loss yardage in a game (30). Shah also thrived off the field at Utah, earning a bachelor's degree in political science, a master's degree in exercise and sport science, and a Juris Doctorate.

Academics have always been important to coach Shah. He said he would stay up nights prepping for trials as a lawyer, and his drive to work hard, even late into the night, started in college when he would have to stay up through the night to get his studies done when he was exhausted from football during the day. These traits have been passed on to his son, Sharrieff Jr.

The younger Shah says both he and his family expect excellence. With a father who is a lawyer and a mother who is a CEO, the bar is set pretty high, but the younger Sharrieff aims high himself. Shah Jr., a three-time state champion at Juan Diego High School, plans to attend medical school after he finishes his undergraduate studies. According to his father, he made the decision when he was nine years old after seeing a picture in a National Geographic of a child with a cleft palate and wanting to fix it.

"My father told me I had to be something better than a lawyer," Shah Jr. joked. "My family, they've always pushed me, really hard, so I've always expected excellence from myself and they've expected it from me as well. So there's pressure, but it's pressure I thrive under. I like it."

School has always come first in the Shah family, with "football a close second." Throughout his football career, Junior needed to keep his grades up, or he was not allowed to go to football practice or spend time with friends. Academics first is the family creed in the Shah family. The Shah's don't allow academics to be put on the back burner.

Sharrieff Jr. will be playing linebacker and on special teams for the Utah football team this fall. Both father and son enjoy coaching and playing for the crimson and white.

"I just want to contribute to the team," Shah Jr. said of his role this season, "whether it be on defense, special teams. I just want to show the coaches I can play out here with these guys and the top competition in the nation."

Since father has coached son since little league (when he was seven years old) and at home during high school because they are "a huge football family through and through" and "football never ends in [the Shah] house," he is not intimidated to play for his dad at all. The expectation of excellence is not limited to academics, it carries over to the football field as well. Coach Shah will not let his son get away with anything, which makes him a better player he says. Even his mother gets into discussions of football, backing up what her husband has to say. She's a "football wife and loves football," coming from a football family. Football discussions aren't limited to at home and at practice either. father and son talk on the sidelines during games, which is important for both of them and not just from a football standpoint. Sharrieff Jr has told his father "if you stop [coaching me during games], I wouldn't want to be here." The father/son relationship has not been driven away due to pressure on the football field, which is a remarkable thing.

"It's fun," said the younger Shah. "It's great to see him every day. And it's good to be able to talk to him about game plans, defensive schemes, and if I don't understand something, I can always go to him. It's really nice having him on the sidelines."

Being the football coach for your son may seem difficult for some parents, partly because it could take away from just being able to be a fan and enjoy your son playing football. This, however, is not a problem for the Shah family. Since Sharrieff Jr. is not in his father's position group to coach, it allows his dad to be a coach but still be a fan of his son as a football player. Coach Shah is still a loving parent as well, giving his son a "hug and a kiss everyday."

"I've coached him ever since he was seven in several different sports," coach Shah said. "My son is a competitor, wants to understand, and it's hard at this level when you're trying to learn so many different schemes and defenses. My wife knows that football doesn't end in the house. It's just an extension of the field, so at dinner, my son will say, 'Dad, what do you think about this coverage?'"

"I feel like I can still be his father and be a fan because he's not in my position group. And I can watch him and allow Kalani Sitake the DC and one of our best coaches, on defense the best, to coach him. And I can say, 'Son, here's what I see. As a defender, continue to work on this, improve that. I like when you do this.' So it works out well."

It's clear how much Sharrieff Shah cares for his son and is proud of all of his accomplishments. Shah is a loving parent and a dedicated coach, while Sharrieff Jr. has many of the characteristics that made his father so successful both on and off the field. It wouldn't be surprising to see the younger Shah move up the depth chart in years to come.