Shaun Hastings may be a massive 6-4, 280-pound offensive lineman, but his mother says his soft heart has always been the biggest thing about the Saint Francis University redshirt junior.
The oldest of three siblings, Hastings was protective of his younger brother and sister. It was an instinct he displayed at a young age and one that not only helped his family navigate through a tough period but also laid the building blocks for the man Shaun is today.
“I noticed as he was growing up Shaun was always so in tune to others’ feelings,” said his mother, Erin Hastings. “He always was putting others before himself.”
When Shaun was nearly 10 years old, his brother Matthew began to struggle with issues. As the diagnosis of ADHD/SPD slowly came into focus, finding the right combination of medication and therapy to help Matthew was a strain on the family.
“I was younger when Matthew was first diagnosed,” Shaun said. “Even at that age I could see it was frustrating and difficult for my parents and our family. Learning how to deal with his issues, finding the right medications for him … it was some tough times.”
Shaun was keenly aware of Matthew’s issues, Erin said, and was a calming presence for his brother. That steady influence laid the foundation for a tight relationship that served both brothers well as they grew up.
“Shaun is very protective. I think with the difficulties we had in the beginning with Matthew, he was very keen on how others perceived his brother,” Erin said. “[Matthew] noticed the stares and the whispers, and Shaun stepped in to help.
“I never asked Shaun to help. He was such a calming influence for Matthew. And it was tough for me at first to reconcile having my kid help me. But I never asked him. He did it all by himself. I came to realize it was just who he is.”
Matthew and Shaun never attended the same school because of their seven-year age difference. Still, Shaun remained keenly aware of what was going on around his brother.
Shaun made sure to stay in tune with what was going on when they left the house. He wanted Matthew to be viewed the same as everybody else. It was extremely important to him.
“I feel everyone deserves a shot to be treated right and fairly. Especially kids. Growing up, kids are mean and it’s tough,” Shaun said. “It was just something I was aware of. It wasn’t something I could protect my brother from, per se, but I just kept an open eye and looked out for him.”
During those early years, as the Hastings family worked through finding Matthew the right combination of a proper diagnosis and medications, Erin discovered Shaun had a special soft spot for kids. And it was more than Matthew. He gravitated to all of them.
“It’s not just the relationship with his brother,” Erin said. “It’s his cousins, our friends’ kids. Kids are a big deal to Shaun. He’s always such a calming influence on them and he’s always had a soft spot for kids with disabilities or who are struggling, obviously. Kids just gravitate to him and I describe Shaun to everyone as a big leader.”
A soft spot for kids, leadership abilities and a willingness to put others first … it’s no wonder Shaun has discovered ways to fill the servant-leader gap while he’s away from his family at college.
When Shaun arrived on campus at Saint Francis in 2017, football and school dominated his focus. And that hasn’t changed. Shaun is taking classes on campus, dealing with COVID-19 guidelines and hoping the Red Flash have a season in early 2021. Meanwhile, he has discovered outlets and opportunities to help others.
During his freshman year while he was “finding his way,” Shaun came across an opportunity to be involved with Special Olympics. Kids and a community that needed help were a natural fit.
Later that first year, he participated in the Saint Francis Chapter of Uplifting Athletes Lift for Life and wanted to learn more about what it was all about.
As a leader, and a person who gets a high level of satisfaction helping serve people or communities that are challenged or underserved, Shaun learned more about the chapter and the rare disease cause and knew it was something he wanted to be a part of.
“I never really got involved with organizations and stuff [at Cedar Cliff high school] because I was always very busy in high school,” said Shaun. “My freshman year here I was still trying to find my place. I was looking for things that fit so I could help.
“So I got involved in Special Olympics. That was my first step. When I was a freshman we had Lift For Life and that really interested me.”
Shaun attended the Uplifting Athletes Leadership Development Conference in Atlanta in early 2020 after volunteering to become a chapter leader to better help serve the Rare Disease Community.
No one is less surprised than his mother that Shaun has found a way to serve others. She saw it up close and personal in their home for more than a decade.
“He has a heart of gold. Personality-wise he’s 100 percent like his father [Mark] but because of what we went through with Matthew and how I had to learn and train to adjust to being in tune with his needs, I like to think this side he gets from me,” Erin said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with Shaun where he put himself first. His default is to put others first and I’m proud of him for finding ways to put his talents outside of football to use.”