By Connor Hennessey (@ConnorHennes)
DT Shackelford has seen his fair share of time on the sideline the past two seasons, and after missing two years the senior linebacker was back on the field for the Ole Miss Rebels in 2013 poised for a come back.
Before the 2013 season opener at Vanderbilt, Shackelford had not seen action since November 27, 2010 in a loss to Mississippi State. Many would give up and move on after missing two years, especially a player who carries little to no draft stock according to the NFL experts. But for this Ole Miss veteran, there was a reason for coming back.
“I’m just blessed to have this opportunity again, to be with my teammates. To be with them on the field means the world to me”, Shackelford said, “I know there are a lot of people that have been through a lot of the things I’ve been through that haven’t had the chance to come back.”
Shackelford suffered a torn ACL at the end of spring practice in 2011 forcing him to miss the upcoming season. The Decatur, Ala. native was supposed to be ready for a 2012 comeback but the surgery wasn’t completed correctly forcing Shackelford to miss the 2012 season as well.
Shackelford played both defensive end and linebacker in 2010, appearing in all twelve games while starting six. He led the team in sacks and quarterback hurries before being crippled with a knee injury in the spring.
For junior linebacker Keith Lewis it was an extra motivation to play harder as a young player when Shackelford was out.
“Coming in and seeing how vocal he was regardless of the circumstance, the impact of seeing how positive DT could stay made me stay positive,” Lewis said.
Prior to the end of Spring practice in 2012, Shackelford was awarded the Chucky Mullins Courage Award, which is an award given to a Senior defenseman for the Rebels who displays the work ethic, courage and likeness of Chucky Mullins. The award is named for Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins. Mullins was an Ole Miss defensive back who was paralyzed during the 1989 Homecoming Game against Vanderbilt who later died from his injuries.
The honor is given to a senior leader on the Ole Miss defense, and for Shackelford it is more than just another award. “Everyone in this town knows what that award means to not only this football team but this community, so that’s something that I hold near and dear to my heart,” Shackelford said.
Ole Miss graduate and former linebacker Jason Jones was the 2011 recipient of the courage award. Similar to Shackelford, Jones spoke very highly about the honor.
“It meant so much to me because this award is not something that you for or labor for, but it is an award based on you being you and if that brings out courage, leadership and willingness to do everything it takes to be the best at everything you do without giving up, the spirit of Chucky definitely lives within you as an individual,” Jones said.
Senior Linebacker Mike Marry is the current recipient of the Mullins award, and is a part of Shackelford’s recruiting class. For Marry it has been good to have his teammate back on the field this season.
“It makes a big difference with the energy he brings and the attitude he brings on and off the field whether he’s on the field or not he can always get you ready to play. Being that I came in with him, it makes it that much more special to be with what’s left of my class,” Marry said.
Marry’s days at Ole Miss have come to an end but Shackelford was granted one more year of NCAA eligibility to return to Oxford. The Rebel veteran has decided to return for the 2014 season because just as any other player, he still holds his professional football dreams.
“I’ve been dreaming about that ever since playing flag football, but you also have to be realistic with situations that you can’t necessarily control which was two ACL [injuries] that I thought I would never have, and they happened so that was a situation that I never thought would happen. Fortunately for me I took my grades the right way and I am able to do both, but yes it’s still a goal for me and it’s still something I want to pursue,” Shackelford said.
If Shackelford were drafted, he would join the already 22 former Rebels on active NFL Rosters, including 2006 Chucky Mullins Award recipient Patrick Willis. The fifth year senior knows that the NFL may be out of reach for him, so the Student-Athlete is prepared off the field as well.
“Of course there is life after football, I’d be the one to know because you never know when an injury can happen, so to be prepared on the academic side of life is always good,” Shackelford said.
Shackelford will receive a Masters degree in Education from Ole Miss in May, and will explore other education options for 2014 to build his resume off the field.
While he was out, Shackelford missed a 2-10 season with a coaching change from Houston Nutt to Hugh Freeze. He missed the first year of the Hugh Freeze era, which was a 7-6 season capped off by a bowl game win over Pittsburgh. He was part of Ole Miss’ second straight bowl trip in 2013.
“I know how it was when we were 2-10 and 4-8 so repeatedly going through losing seasons then now having the opportunity to go to back-to-back bowl games, that’s certainly a blessing to this program,” Shackelford said.
The Rebels finished the year 8-5 with a second straight bowl victory after defeating Georgia Tech 25-17 in the Music City Bowl back on December 30th where Shackelford recorded 7 tackles and a sack on his way to defensive MVP honors.