The trio of Shelton, Gates and Bush combined for 2,110 rushing yards during 2003 and because of that the expectations for the unit are high.
"Expectations are high," said Shelton. "I was telling some of the guys that if we don't work hard, we won't win. Last year doesn't mean anything, we have to start all over this year."
Shelton also realizes that it will take full effort each day in practice to meet those high expectations.
"We just have to go out every day and practice as hard as we can, so we can win as many games as we can," Shelton continued.
Prior to the start of the 2003 season, most expected Shelton to receive the bulk of the carries, with Gates providing as a backup when the Florida State transfer and Lexington native needed a rest. However, from game one it was apparent that Gates would be much more than simply a reserve back and then true freshman Michael Bush began to receive more and more snaps out of the backfield.
When Shelton was injured early in game nine at TCU, Gates stepped in and the U of L ground game didn't miss a beat.
"It's a good thing to have so many really good [running backs], explained Shelton. "Just look what happened last year when I got injured. We had Lionel Gates backing me up and he came in and picked it up and he ended up being 1,000 yards all-purpose guy. It's a good thing because you never know when somebody is going to go down or when somebody needs a breather. This way we have someone that can come in and pick up the slack."
With such a deep unit, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound junior knows that it gives Cardinals offensive staff multiple options throughout the season.
"I feel comfortable with Coach Petrino that he is going to give the ball to whoever has the hot hand," Shelton explained. "Why wouldn't he? If one game I'm not hot, Michael might be or Lionel might be. We just have to roll with which guy is working for you that day."
That first hot hand will undoubtably come on September 5th when the Cardinals open their season against Kentucky at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
"We are really excited for the first game and I know Kentucky is probably excited to play again because of us winning last year", said Shelton, who rushed for 151-yards against UK last fall. "They probably want to get after me. It's the first game of the year and it's the in-state rivalry, so I'm sure both teams are going to be ready."
One thing is for certain, Shelton, along with Gates, Bush and company will cause headaches for opposing players and coaches in game one and all season long.