Due to his status as captain of unfashionable Stoke, and also the tackle on Aaron Ramsey in February 2010 - just days before his only previous Three Lions call-up - that incensed Arsene Wenger and left the Arsenal man with a broken leg, Shawcross' abilities have largely been overlooked.
Yet the 25-year-old's tenacity has continued to shine through, just as it did in those early days at United before he was released in 2008 after making just a couple of League Cup appearances.
It was fitting therefore that, speaking at a coaching clinic at St George's Park as part of the FA and McDonald's Community Awards programme, Neville should have such a perfect example to offer to his students.
"Any kid who has a dream should look at Ryan Shawcross maybe more than people at the highest elements of the game," said Neville.
"He is a great story and the fact he is in the England squad this week is something I am proud of.
"I remember playing with him when he was 16. He was a raw talent but someone who really wanted to make it. He wanted to use the last ounce of his energy to become a professional footballer.
"He had to leave Manchester United to get his chance.
"Not giving in and continuing to fight is a huge strength and he has been absolutely fantastic for Stoke.
"He deserves his opportunity this week and I am looking forward to seeing him because he represents the best of attitude, of working hard to get where you want.
"I am sure he will improve and get better."
Like all the other fringe players in Roy Hodgson's squad, including Liverpool's Jonjo Shelvey, who has been called up for the first time this afternoon, along with Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand after Kieran Gibbs was forced to pull out with a thigh injury, Shawcross will hope England opt for an experimental side against San Marino, officially the world's joint worst team.
Skipper Steven Gerrard and Liverpool team-mate Glen Johnson are ruled out through suspension, whilst any player carrying a slight knock will not be risked either given a far more testing trip to Poland is looming next Tuesday.
That includes Ashley Cole, who is eligible to make his 99th appearance despite being landed with an FA charge over his ill-advised comments on Twitter last Friday.
Cole has until Thursday to respond and if found guilty is likely to be hit with a fine and FA sources insist no pressure will be applied to Hodgson over the 31-year-old facing San Marino, with that issue determined purely by the coach's team selection.
The balancing act between keeping players fresh for Poland, whilst not giving them too much time off, is the most difficult thing Hodgson must negotiate this week.
San Marino have no FIFA ranking points and have won just once in their entire history - against fellow lightweight Liechtenstein in 2004 - and never in a qualifying game.
Whilst it is famously remembered San Marino scored after a record 8.3 seconds when the sides last met in November 1993, it should also be noted England went on to get seven, adding to the six they got in the reverse game at Wembley.
It should be a fixture that dispels the myth there are no easy games in international football.
"My mentality when I played in games of this nature was always to scare myself," said Neville.
"It was a preparation tool. I thought of what might happen, and believed the world would collapse if I didn't win.
"That is what I used to do when people told me it was a certainty.
"I can't stand here as an England coach and say England shouldn't do anything but win on Friday. Nobody can."
Complacency is an obvious danger but Neville is confident the England squad are professional enough to ensure their own preparation is as focussed as it would be against the best teams.
"The players are the managers of their own destiny when they get to this level," he said.
"They are really experienced. They have been here before. They have been round the block.
"They know the pitfalls of any game of football if you don't approach it in the right way."