A Teary Acceptance

D.T. Shackelford, 22nd recipient of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award, made it through his impressive acceptance speech at the banquet held on the field at the IPF Thursday night. Until he got to the last part, that is.

That's when he addressed his teammates. Or tried to. But he could not go on.

An unknown voice from those attending, "We love you," was followed by much applause as D.T. tried to collect himself. It took a while longer.

"When I got hurt, we were over here in the corner going through some routine drills," he said, nodding in the direction that he'd gone down earlier in the week that, barring a miracle, ended his 2011 season several months before it actually began. "I don't know how it happened."

What happened was an ACL tear that will require surgery. His head coach, Houston Nutt, was comforting to him as he slowly made his way to the stage on crutches.

"We'll wait for you, D.T,." Nutt said, appropriately enough since the wait will indeed be a while before he actually plays again.

"The one thing that has kept me going is my teammates," Shackelford finally said, after quite a period of time regrouping. "I don't go through a down moment, because they're always texting me and calling me. Try to have another down moment, somebody will say we're for you, we're for you. My teammates, y'all really don't know how much y'all inspire me to keep going. Y'all are the ones that keep me up.

"It ain't no way in the world I can let that go through my head to quit."

If there is a script the Chucky Mullins Courage Award Banquet should follow, Thursday night's 22nd edition might have written it. All of them have been unique events. At the top of the list is arguably the one this year.

A teary D.T. accepts before an attentive audience
Ole Miss
Chucky himself was alive for the first two banquets and attended in 1990 and 1991 when Chris Mitchell and Jeff Carter won. That Chucky was there made those two gatherings special.

Chucky's Ole Miss head coach, Billy Brewer, was the featured speaker Thursday night. That was a first.

Shackelford is the first injured player to win the award and the first junior to be chosen. For the first time since 2005, the winner will wear No. 38 on the field.

Several former winners of No. 38 were in attendance. Brad Gaines, the Vanderbilt player who was on the receiving end of Chucky's last tackle, was there, as usual. So were Chucky's guardians from the time he was 12 years old, Carver and Karen Phillips.

Brewer's remarks during his time at the podium were about the actual moment of the injury, about how an entire nation and some world-wide responded to help Chucky and his cause, and about the mystique and importance of wearing No. 38 as an Ole Miss Rebel.

But this night was about D.T., whose words after receiving the award kept those listening quietly on the edge of their seats.

He spoke of family – mother, father, sister, brother. He spoke of the discipline his parents instilled in him and his siblings.

"My family, I really thank God for y'all."

Then he spoke to his coaches.

"My coaches, and my coaches growing up," he said. "I specifically want to thank the coaches here. They made me who I am today.

"I remember when I first walked on campus and Coach (Tyrone) Nix, my coach, was getting on me. I was like, ‘Man, I don't know if I can take it. I didn't see this.' But as I kept working and kept working, he said ‘You're going to be OK. You've got to trust me. You've got to trust me.' I really thank God for that man. He really brought the best out of me."

Shackelford remembered his recruiting visit by Nutt to his home in Decatur, Ala., ironically in the same general area of that neighboring state as Chucky was from.

"Coach Nutt on the recruiting visit, he was about to leave. He said ‘Let me see your room.' I thought, 'What?' But he said, ‘Let me see your room.' So he went in my room. I thank God for that, because he got to see who I was as a person, and I got to see who he was as a coach. Because he not only wanted to know what I did on that field, he wanted to know if I cleaned up my room.

"So I thank God for him."

There was more at that moment.

"I can't say enough, and I could be up here all night," he said. "But the coaching staff, I really thank God for y'all. It's certainly a blessing, this whole community."

Then it came time for him to look his peers in the eye and speak to them man to man. That's when a most unique night moved into yet another realm.

And that's the moment when everybody knew exactly what the Chucky Mullins Courage Award is all about.

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