Though careful about use of the word ‘back' please, since it was an abrupt preseason issue requiring surgery that sidelined Shumpert for the 2010 season. Now he's healed and ba…umm, returned to active status. And, of course, happy.
"It feels good," he reported following Thursday's opening date of spring drills. "I haven't had any problems yet." Fingers-crossed that he doesn't because this is key time for Shumpert and his fellow fullbacks as they battle for the starting job left open by graduation of Patrick Hanrahan. It shapes up as a fine spring fight with game-tested veterans Sylvester Hemphill and Adrian Marcus and the eager Shumpert. He admits to having ground to make up on that pair of peers.
"They'll probably know more than I do right now since I'm just coming back now." By the same token Shumpert is maybe more motivated. After all, he has waited through a regular 2009 redshirt season and then again last fall. Patience is not the easiest of virtues for an ambitious young athlete.
"It was hard just sitting there and watching, now," Shumpert said. "I couldn't do that, I don't want to do that again!"
Hopefully he doesn't have to ever again. If not for unexpected surgery he wouldn't have waited long to get on the field in some sort of capacity, even if Hanrahan had the regular blocking-back job taken care of. His pre-season collisions with linebackers and safeties coming up to fill the hole were a hot, no pun intended, August topic, very much worthy of a name-title. So a job would have been found for Shumpert on special teams at the very least, and perhaps as a bonus blocker in short yardage settings.
Now he can truly pursue such responsibility again. If December practices for the Gator Bowl offer any indications, Shumpert might not be as far behind his peers as two missed years might imply. Some observers even wondered if he could have been activated for the bowl game, since the season was going to count against him already.
"I really couldn't play by the end," Shumpert clarified. "They wanted to make sure it was a 100% before I ever got out there. I practiced a lot for the bowl, I actually learned more at the bowl game than I did the whole time just doing plays and stuff."
At the same time there are technical aspects to catch up on which no amount of unit-meeting instruction or film room observation can perfect.
"I learn better when I'm actually out there on the field, playing, than on the sideline. It's pretty good, watching (last fall) I learned all the plays. But the signals and stuff were hard. But I've been working on it and I'm a whole lot better."
He's also in even better condition, he claimed, than prior to the surgery, reporting for the first spring practice at 238 pounds. Anyone surprised that a player could come out of surgery/rehab in stronger shape than before doesn't understand just how grueling Mississippi State makes the recovery process. Put another way, no Bulldog expects an iota of sympathy from a certain strength coach just because he's had part of his body opened up by a surgeon's knife.
Far from it.
"That is very true!" avows Shumpert. "It's worse being hurt than not practicing, I'd rather be out there than over there in the Pit!" That being the marked-off area beside one practice field where Coach Matt Balis' staff in conjunction with the trainer team keeps sidelined State men busy. Very, very busy, as was the fate Thursday of starting OG Tobias Smith and backup OC Sam Watts. Both are rebuilding after their own winter procedures and expected at full-strength for summer.
Meanwhile Shumpert will go above-and-beyond normal spring demands to both stay away from the Pit, and to move up the depth chart. Day-one of 2011 practices offered few clues how this contest will play out, he said, since Coach Dan Mullen and staff focused their first session on passing offense and defense alike.
"The fullbacks, this is the first day and we didn't have a lot of stuff," Shumpert said. "So I'm hoping this weekend we have a lot more fullback plays. And I'll be ready to get in there!"
Mississippi State has a Saturday morning practice scheduled, but the starting time was to be set based on how tomorrow's weather is shaping up.