Hardly anyone would have faulted Shane Gaines if he had chosen to celebrate graduating from Owings Mills High School in June by enjoying a leisurely summer before enrolling at Salisbury.
Instead, the Baltimore resident spent his summer on the Eastern Shore campus, working out with his future teammates and getting a jump on the learning curve many freshman face when making the transition to college football.
Sea Gulls coach Sherman Wood said that foundation has helped the cornerback earn four New Jersey Athletic Conference Defensive Rookie of the Week honors this fall – including earlier in the week after No. 21 Salisbury defeated Frostburg State, 28-27, to clinch the league championship and the automatic berth to the NCAA Division III tournament.
"He was here every day during the summer," Wood said Thursday of Gaines. "You don't get too many kids to do that. He was in the weight room, he was in the film room. He knew that he had to learn some things if he wanted to be No. 1.
"To back up a little more, he was here in the spring, which was good. So he had a chance to get accustomed to what was going on and then he stayed all summer. So to me, it's just the work ethic paying off. He wanted to make sure the coaches were familiar with him and what he was all about. … He's a flamboyant kid, very enthusiastic, motivating."
Gaines ended the regular season ranked third on the Sea Gulls (7-2) in tackles with 54 and second in passes defensed with eight and break-ups with seven. That's a significant contribution from a first-year player, but Wood again pointed to Gaines' readiness.
"Stat-wise, you take care of that based on your preparation," Wood said. "But I wouldn't say that I'm surprised that he's done all of those things because he prepared to be the best. You can prepare, but you still have got to get it done, and he put himself in a position to make those plays. So I'm not surprised."
With three new starters in the defensive backfield, Wood would have been understandably worried about adding Gaines to the mix. But Wood said Gaines' youth was never an issue.
"My philosophy is we put the best 11 football players on the field," Wood said. "We have seniors who are not starters. They know that our goal is to out-recruit them. The sophomores know that we're going to out-recruit those guys. So what does that mean? You either sit down and let someone take your position or you step it up and get better and hopefully, that will make our team better."