MISSOULA — Forget weights.
When Montana nose tackle David Shaw was growing up in rural Pennsylvania, he lifted 200-pound barrels of compost on his father's farm.
Their family farm doesn't grow the traditional wheat or hay, or raise cattle, though — the Shaws farm worms.
"'Yeah, I'm a worm farmer. Don't worry about it,'" Shaw said, retelling what he says to people who poke fun at the family business.
"The more you fight something, the more people will harp on it. I embrace it."
What's a worm farm?
Shaw says it's all about composting. Uncle Jim's Worm Farm raises Red Wigglers and European Night Crawlers for people to compost. They also sell those worms, along with meal worms, for pets and fishermen.
"It's a niche business," Shaw said. "People like composting. I think the second biggest hobby in the world is gardening. It's great for gardening. It's been proven that compost is really good for plants."
On that vermiculture wonderland, Shaw grew up as the youngest of eight siblings, with five sisters — Jacquelyn, Jennifer, Ann, Katie and Mary — and two brothers — Jimmy and John — where they were home schooled.
Homeschooling for Shaw was a choice. He said he went to public school until he was in fourth grade, but he wanted to be taught at home like his older brothers.
"Home-schooled, worked on a worm farm, people laugh about it," Shaw said with a smile. "I liked it. I enjoyed it."
Shaw — UM's 6-foot-5, 319-pound starting nose tackle — was home-schooled in high school and played football at Spring Grove High. By the time he was finished there, he was a three-star recruit and earned all-conference honors.
He inked with Maryland, following in the Big Ten footsteps of his brothers who played at Penn State.
"It was exciting," Shaw said of playing at Maryland. "It was fun, just getting out there. I like just playing football. Football's enjoyable to me."
Shaw played in seven games his freshman season, starting in one.
His sophomore season started off strong, as Shaw played from the opening whistle in four games, managing six tackles.
But that came crashing down. He needed a medical redshirt after suffering an elbow injury. The following year, Shaw's playing time was limited. He only had reps in six games.
"Honestly, I wanted something new and exciting in my life," Shaw said. "Montana's a big-time school down here in the FCS. I was like, 'You know what, I want to have some fun for my last two years.'"
Before picking Montana, Shaw talked his initial decision to transfer over with his parents, and his dad helped him look up different schools.
His dad had the idea of looking at the West Coast and from there, Shaw found Montana. But Montana also found Shaw.
"They moved him to O-line because they had a change in defensive scheme," defensive coordinator Jason Semore said. "A guy that played for me was Going there, so I caught wind of it that way. David reached out to us as well, so it was one of those things that was meant to be."
Defensive line coach Brian Hendricks agrees.
"It was a great surprise," Hendricks said. "He was looking around and wanted to go to a program that played good ball. He reached out to us. ... We were really fortunate to get in contact with him and for him to have interest in us."
Semore said that in his early conversations with him, Shaw said that he wanted to stay on the defensive line and that he was a true nose guard. They also talked about what the culture surrounding Montana football is like.
"He said, 'That sounds perfect to me. I love the outdoors and all those things,'" Semore said. "When he got on campus and he saw our stadium and stuff, he was like, 'This is very similar to FBS. This is where I want to be.' It was a really good fit from the jump."
One of the things Shaw said he likes most is that, even though he's 2,272 miles from home, Missoula feels familiar.
"It's kinda similar to where I grew up, besides all the mountains," Shaw said. "The weather's the same. It's a smaller town. It's got the same feel. I like it."
With three regular season games left on the schedule, Shaw's been a dominant force on the defensive line.
He's started in seven of Montana's eight games and has 13 tackles — good for 17th on the team — and 3½ of those tackles were for loss. He also has a blocked kick to his name.
"He plays a position that doesn't get all the stats in the world and all that kind of stuff," Semore said. "He's not necessarily interested in that. He just likes playing hard and being physical. Having a presence in there like that at nose guard always makes your defense better. He's just a good fit."
Semore said Shaw has grown a lot as a player since the season's start.
"At the beginning of the season, he wasn't making a lot of plays," Semore said. "He's always in the backfield and doing disruptive things, which is what you want from your nose, but was missing a lot of tackles. A guy that big has problems changing direction a lot of the time.
"These last couple weeks, we've really been working on his pad level when he comes through at the line of scrimmage ... He was very productive last week for us. He made tons of tackles in the backfield. If he starts to come along that way and continues to do that every week, he'll be a special guy."
In lieu of stats, one of the things that stands out the most from a coaching standpoint with Shaw is his sheer strength.
"He's really strong. He's extremely strong," Hendricks said. "He's one of eight. He's one of the youngest ones and you can tell he got picked on a lot. Now it's time for him to pick on some people. It's fun watching his physicality. ... It's fun watching him do his thing."
And growing up on that worm farm is one of the reasons why Shaw is as hard of a worker as he is.
"It's something that definitely got my work ethic up, 'Just don't complain, get your job done,'" Shaw said. "It's different. When people hear 'worm farm' they kinda think it's a joke. But yeah."
Standing on the sidelines ahead of Wednesday's practice, Shaw never thought he'd be where he is today.
He had no idea that being raised at a worm farm in southern Pennsylvania would lead to a football career thousands of miles away in Montana.
"I just laugh with my dad. You'd never expect this in a million years," Shaw said. "It's kinda like, 'What happened?' Just rolling with the punches and fell in my lap. I'm grateful for it."