By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – What the football future holds for D.T. Shackelford remains to be seen, but it’s looking brighter than it was at the beginning of the season.
Once mentioned as an NFL prospect at linebacker, Shackelford is in his fifth year as part of the Ole Miss program but only his third in getting on the field.
He missed the 2011 and 2012 seasons after tearing an anterior cruciate knee ligament (ACL) that took two surgeries to repair.
Shackelford has slowly and steadily worked his way back. One of his biggest steps came earlier this season around the Auburn game when he lost his knee brace and gained his freedom.
“The thing that helped me out was not having that knee brace, not having to tug on it and stuff. That was a big step for me when I was able to take it off,” he said.
He posted four tackles and a tackle for loss against Arkansas, a game in which Ole Miss coaches felt players were sometimes sluggish and needed a spark.
Shackelford had back-to-back stops in the third quarter when the Razorbacks were trying to fight back from a 27-17 deficit.
The second tackle was a solo drop of running back Alex Collins for a 4-yard loss on a screen pass. That set up a third-and-11, and Arkansas punted a play later.
“I thought he gave us a pick-up,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “He made big plays at critical times when it still remained to be seen who would win the game.”
Shackelford signed as a four-star middle linebacker prospect from Decatur, Ala. He’s played both linebacker spots and end to the point that all feel natural, he says.
Shackelford has taken full advantage of his extra time on campus. With a degree in History in hand, he’ll complete his master’s in May.
Shackelford hasn’t given up on his NFL dream, but he approaches it more cautiously.
He has a a year of eligibility remaining for 2014 if he chooses to pursue it.
“I love Ole Miss, and I love these guys that I play with,” he said. “That will be a decision that I will make, but I won’t do it without consulting with Jesus Christ and Him directing my ways.”
Shackelford said if he does return he’ll pursue either a second master’s or begin doctoral work.
He’s appeared in nine games with no starts this season and has compiled 22 tackles with two tackles for loss.
Freeze says Shackelford is beginning to show some of the explosiveness that marked his earlier career.
“You’re not going to come from two years off and just come right in and do what you thought you were going to be able to do,” Shackelford said. “But I’m feeling close.”
With reserve defensive end John Youngblood out, Shackelford will be used mostly at end this week. Once upon a time that would have meant a big boost to an Ole Miss pass rush that has missed key players much of the season and ranks last in the SEC with just 1.22 sacks per game.
Freeze is hoping for a big finish from Shackelford.
“He’s started to get better and better, and it looks like he’s moving better. He’s getting more confident, and I hope that shows up in the last few games that we have.”