Shackelford fulfills quest to return to football field after injury

D.T. Shackleford stands on crutches during the 2011 Grove Bowl. The Ole Miss linebacker returned after a two-year absence last week. (AP)

D.T. Shackleford stands on crutches during the 2011 Grove Bowl. The Ole Miss linebacker returned after a two-year absence last week. (AP)

By Parrish Alford
Daily Journal

OXFORD – For D.T. Shackelford, it was always a question of when, not if.

The physical part of the game he loves had never dealt him a serious injury until he dropped to the indoor turf in the spring of 2011. He knew it had then.

Shackelford pounded that turf with his fist, believing he’d be away from action for quite a while.

He just didn’t think it would be two complete seasons.

Shackelford had torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and the knee never completely healed from surgery. A second one was required.

By the time he took the field in what would become a 39-35 Rebels win at Vanderbilt, D.T. Shackelford had not played in a game since posting a career-high nine tackles, two for loss and a sack against Mississippi State in November of 2010.

“I knew I was going to get back on the field. When, I didn’t know, but I knew I wasn’t going to quit on my dream of getting back on this field,” said Shackelford, a Decatur, Ala., native, beaming as he described his return to competition after practice earlier this week.

As before the injury with the previous administration, Shackelford has played both end and linebacker.

With the shuffling after last week’s injury to outside linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, the Rebels’ leading tackler a year ago, Shackelford has moved back to middle linebacker, where he’s the primary back-up to starter Mike Marry.

He’s listed at 246 pounds, up 16 pounds from his sophomore playing weight in 2010. Reviews from his first game back were mixed but are boosted by the hope of how he can help the Ole Miss defense.

“From the standpoint of injury I didn’t see anything,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “He played hard. He played out of control a little bit, but that was the story with a lot of our defense.”

Shackelford is listed as a senior but could petition the NCAA to get a year back.

He has a history degree in hand and is well into his master’s program.

Shackelford had three tackles at Vanderbilt. Before the injury he was a player with All-SEC potential, leading the team in sacks in 2010.

“He made a few mistakes on his fits, but he played with phenomenal effort, and now that he’s beginning to settle in, I think he’ll be fine,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.

While coming back from two surgeries Shackelford has remained a visible part of the program, a constant encourager to teammates and coaches.

During the same time frame he’s watched some athletes in other sports choose to walk away when faced with similar adversity. All situations are different, and Shackelford doesn’t share that story in a pious manner. He uses it to underscore his commitment to returning to the football field and, he hopes, to the level of play and potential he showed as a younger player.

“God doesn’t make mistakes. People ask me, ‘D.T., how did you get through such and such?’ I feel like I went through it for a reason. I know I did.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com