And about those five stars? He worked hard to earn them.
BY KASSIDY HILL
Joe Goerge’s phone was ringing with calls from all across the country
Because Joe Goerge had a connection, an inside track to hottest ticket on what has become college football’s free agent market. Wide receiver Justin Shorter -- the former 5-star and number one ranked player coming out of New Jersey -- was transferring from Penn State. And with the news Goerge, his high school coach, began fielding requests.
“Every school, schools that don’t even recruit here — Oklahoma State, Texas — these teams are calling to me to see what I could do,” said Goerge.
He laughs now at the seeming absurdity of the hoop-la … but he also understands. After all Joe Goerge had a front row seat to the making of Justin Shorter. As he recalls it for GatorBait Magazine, it was quite a show.
“There was no doubt what kind of talent he had.”
Shorter first came to Goerge’s attention when Justin was in 8th grade. He was primarily a baseball player at the time but dipped his toe into football — and promptly broke his ankle. But the glimpse was enough. When he began his freshman year, Goerge and staff immediately brought Shorter up to the JV team. As a sophomore, he was playing with the varsity team. His junior year he, “just kinda took off.”
Over the next two years Shorter put together a stat sheet that boasted 81 receptions for 1,240 yards and 13 touchdowns. During that time he also had 51 rushes for 405 yards and five touchdowns. Then for good measure he tossed 80 yards on 3-5 with a touchdown. He never came off the field, explains Goerge, playing defense and special teams as well. In route to a state championship Shorter’s sophomore year and then again his senior year, South Brunswick’s game plan became simple yet lethal.
“Anytime we needed something, it was the unwritten rule, anytime we get one-on-one coverage, we just tell the quarterback, throw the ball as far as you can,” because Justin had to be down there somewhere.
“And there were times, senior year, we lost our quarterback in the semifinal playoff game and we had a wildcat package and on the first play, we had Justin obviously as the wildcat, and on the first play, he goes 65 yards for a touchdown. It’s a 14-7 game with two minutes to go and they’re moving the ball a little bit and he picks off a pass and goes 70 yards for a touchdown the other way to seal it. And for us, he never came off the field. Offense, defense, special teams, it did not matter.”
At 6-4 and 213 in high school with the ability to show up anywhere on the field, offers poured in and with them came adulations, attention and potential for an egotistical prospect. Instead Goerge saw the state’s top recruit work even harder. The son of educators, Shorter saw the importance of continuously learning, improving on what you already knew.
“For a guy that had all that publicity, all of that recognition, he constantly was working on the little — 1, 2, 3 get out of the break. He constantly grabbed quarterbacks — older, younger, senior — to say ‘hey can you throw? Can you throw Saturday morning, can you throw Friday night?’ And of course in today’s day and age with the kids, they tweet it and they film it and you see it all the time, 10 o’clock at night he’s up at the Rutgers bubble throwing balls with the Rutgers quarterback.”
Shorter committed to Penn State and dislocated his kneecap as a freshman. The typically six-week recovery meant Shorter missed practice time and he eventually redshirted his freshman season, having appeared in only four games. During those games, he caught a grand total of three passes for 20 yards. His redshirt freshman campaign went statistically better, hauling in 12 passes for 137 yards. He did not score a touchdown. Penn State’s passing offense was 76th in FBS, averaging 221.3 yards per game through the air. They threw 26 passes of 25+ yards. None of those to Justin Shorter.
“My only question in watching the games this year at Penn State that I could, watching the coaches I’d say ‘God they never lead Justin deep.’ He had a 4.43 laser time 40.”
That’s something Goerge hopes is about to change. On November 26, following Penn State’s loss to No. 3 Ohio State, Shorter put his name in the transfer portal. On January 26, he committed to the Florida Gators. Recruiting rankings as of yet do not account for transfers, but there’s little doubt the Gators roster — which said goodbye to four senior wideouts — instantly got better.
“He's a guy that's got tremendous size and athleticism,” commented head coach Dan Mullen on February’s National Signing Day.
“He’s a mismatch at the outside, got great speed, good hands, good route runner, can be a mismatch. So I love that part of him, watching him on film, both from high school and at Penn State.
“But then when you get around him and you get around him as a person and his family, great kid, high-character guy, hard worker, really fits what we are as a program, and that's what I'm really excited to get him here. I know he's really excited to get here and be a part of it, and I'm really excited to get him here.”
Mullen’s penchant for jet sweeps could continue to flourish with Shorter according to Goerge. His speed means it’s an area his coaches often used him at South Brunswick. But it’s not where he shines the brightest.
Florida favored the middle of the field in 2019, partly due to talent that could exploit the area. The Gators did still out-pace the Nittany Lions though, throwing 34 passes of 25+ yards. They threw for 15+ yards 94 times. Tre Grimes is a deep field threat but has proven more valuable with screens that allow him to break tackles and win in a foot race. Kadarius Toney is especially lethal in the middle of the field with open space. Tight end Kyle Pitts has become a chess piece that Mullen moves around based on matchups. But there hasn’t been a legitimate pure down field threat in this corps. Until now.
“He’s a great big target whether he’s running the out routes, the dig routes, the curl routes,” notes Goerge.
“He’s got phenomenal speed for a guy that big and physical. So yeah, I look forward, I think, to a nice, fresh start. It’s exciting for him.”