By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – There were times last year that D.T. Shackelford, then a freshman linebacker for Ole Miss, was really, really good.
There were times that a bad ankle, and sometimes two, kept him out of games. There were also times that he played at less than full strength.
Fortunately, in Shackelford’s way of thinking, timing isn’t everything.
Through the nagging injuries, he still managed to catch the attention of SEC coaches, who placed him on the league’s all-freshman team. He finished with 20 tackles, 15 solos, and returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown against Southeastern Louisiana.
Had health not evaded him, had he not missed two games later in the season, Shackelford could be even further along in his development. He missed valuable time on the field when he was unable to go against Vanderbilt in September and Tennessee in November. In other games, he was limited.
“Believe it or not, I think I’m better now because of what the ankle injuries allowed me to do,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in Jesus Christ, and I believe everything happens for a reason. He allowed me to go through that time, to just sit back and watch my position and really see how the older guys played.”
A healthy Shackelford had four tackles and two tackles-for-loss in the spring game. He’s continued to assault the backfield in camp and posted 3.5 sacks in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
A prep standout at Austin High School in Decatur, Ala., Shackelford is currently running with the second team at middle linebacker behind senior Jonathan Cornell.
“I don’t consider D.T. Shackelford a backup,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
For the time being, it’s where he is, however.
Enrolled in the college of liberal arts, Shackelford posted a 4.0 GPA in the spring semester.
His study of his older teammates last fall combined with his own work since the end of the 2009 season have helped bring him up to speed with his understanding of scheme and assignments.
Add his physical ability, and it’s easy to see why his coaches hold him in high regard.
“The kid has a high motor. He’s an emotional kid who gets excited, and other guys feed off him,” said defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, who coaches the linebackers. “He’s a big-time leader. I like the way he plays.”
The high motor and the effort, Shackelford’s desire to excel, can sometimes cause minor problems.
“At times you’ll see him get out of control and do some thing uncharacteristic, but we’re controlling that a little better. We think he is going to be a consistent playmaker for us,” Nix said.
Shackelford enthusiastically waits for the time he can hit someone in a different colored jersey. Until then, he doesn’t rest on the praise of his coaches or the attention he received last season.
He’s eager to follow good play with good play and become consistent against SEC teams.
“I’ve come a long way in a year, but I still have to be more consistent,” Shackelford said. “God allowed me to have a pretty good season last year, and if he wanted me to play (more), I would have played. He is in control.
“Now I’m much more mentally prepared, and this game is way more mental than it is physical. If you can get your head right, you can pretty much play the game.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.