Playing sports can lead to a successful, happy life, but it will not guarantee it. That was the gist of Connor Shaw’s message to about 300 Laurens District High School students on Wednesday.

The University of South Carolina football star, who played for parts of four years in the National Football League, visited LDHS under the auspices of the S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation Department and the Raider athletics department.

After quarterbacking the Gamecocks to 33 victories and three bowl victories as starting quarterback, Shaw, now 27, went undrafted in the 2014 draft and signed with the Cleveland Browns. In his preseason debut, he completed eight of nine passes for 123 yards against the Washington Redskins. He was released on Aug. 30, 2014, but re-signed with the Browns’ practice squad. When Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer were both injured, Shaw started against the Baltimore Ravens, completing 14 of 28 passes for 177 yards, including a 49-yard pass to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel.

In a preseason game the following August, Shaw injured multiple ligaments in his thumb, requiring surgery and ending his season. On June 30, 2016, the Browns released him and he signed the next day with the Chicago Bears. A month later, he broke his leg in a preseason game against the Redskins. His career ended when he was released by the Bears on Sept. 8, 2017.

Now Shaw strives to find a new niche. He sampled coaching for eight months at Furman University but resigned before the start of the season. As a father of two, he said, “Life is a constant struggle because I have to consider what I see every day.”

Looking back to when he took USC football to places it had never been before or since, Shaw said, “We won most of those games before we stepped on the field.”

Success, he said, was more a result of nurturing relationships and friendships.

“The people you associate with manifest into who you are,” he said. “You have to be driven, and you have to disassociate yourself with others who are in a downward spiral. Even with your close friends, you may be able to be a light for them, but you have to surround yourself with others who are similarly motivated. Life requires great simplicity. It brings clarity.

“I make goals on a daily basis. You have to define yourself. You have to believe in your values and stand firm. It’s hard to define goals and set boundaries with people whose values don’t align with yours. You’ll always be measured and graded. You’ll always compete, and you always have to be driven by your core beliefs. … Life is an ongoing, circular change, and you have to be able to adapt.”

Shaw advised young athletes, student-athletes and students, never to slow down, reflect and become complacent.

“You have a great practice? There’s another one tomorrow. You have a great game? There’s another one next week. We are sometimes responsible for creations we did not create. Success is fickle. Your contentment is not based only on success but also on your commitment to Christ. Football was my life, my identity. When you’re passionate about something for so long, it becomes a part of you, but it shouldn’t define you. My foundation was football. When football was over, my foundation was weak. I am stronger for it now.”

In Shaw’s final college game, on Jan. 1, 2014, he ran for a touchdown, threw for three and caught one. He connected on 22 of 24 pass attempts for 312 yards and was named the Capitol One Bowl’s most valuable player. His record as Carolina’s quarterback was 27-5.

His belief is that the best is yet to come.