Remaining Hopeful

D.T. Shackelford remains hopeful he can play at some point this season. He keeps that as a goal and it motivates him.

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"You've got to have something to motivate you every day," said the third-year linebacker who is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery in the spring. "But I can't rush it. I can't come back too fast. I've got to make sure I'm patient and do whatever they ask me to do. And I try to do it 100 percent and we'll go from there."

But he's not there yet and admits it.

"I'm about 70 percent, just doing whatever the trainers ask me to do," said the Decatur, Ala., native. "I'm jogging, lifting weights, just doing everything they ask of me to do."

His ultimate and immediate goal is to play this season. That's always been considered a stretch because of the recovery time from his type surgery.

But there remains that hope, that hope which motivates him daily.

"I hope to, but I'm not going to rush it," he said, honestly, reflectively, maturely.

"You've just got to stay positive and whatever happens happens. I've just got to make sure that when it's time, I'm ready and that I'm 100 percent."

But that's obviously not yet, and he doesn't know when that might be. So since spring, he has dedicated himself to not only getting back onto the playing field but also helping his fellow teammates, especially the younger players. It's also helped motivate him during the months of rehab.

"It's just a new role I've got to fill, because I'm not able to play physically," he said. "I have to be mentally into the game and be able to coach the younger guys. Just try to be more of a leader, not only on the field, but off the field also."

D.T. accepting the Chucky Mullins Award last spring

It isn't a role he wanted, but it is one he willingly accepted when the injury occurred.

"I think it's something I was forced into," said the recipient of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award in the spring. "I enjoy it but I also enjoy playing the game. It's something I've had to get used to. Just because you aren't playing doesn't mean you can't be a help to the team."

Shackelford knows last year's Rebel defense struggled all season. He sees a better one this season, and here's why.

"I see we're playing hard," he said. "We're trying to get 11 players to the ball on every play. That's something we really have to stress. Every day you can get better or worse. And I feel every day we're getting better."

He says the young players on defense, especially the linebackers which is his position, are going to be a special group for the Ole Miss Rebels.

"I think they're going to be good," Shackelford said. "I think they sometimes get overanxious, but they have to understand there's a scheme to everything. We all have to work together as one. I feel like they're going to be real good players for us in the future, and a lot of them will help us this year. I feel like they're special players that will be real good if they keep on working and don't get complacent."

D.T. Shackelford wears the No. 38 jersey proudly every day. He represents the late Chucky Mullins and all those who have received the Courage Award named after him, some 22 years of them now.

And he encourages his teammates with a watchful eye and uplifting words every day as they prepare for the upcoming season. He believes a better defense will take the field a week from Saturday against BYU.

"I think there's hustling. I think there's communication. I think once you talk on the field, you become more of a family," he said of how things are different this time around. "Everybody can know what's about to happen. That's one thing that (secondary) Coach Keith Burns has brought to our defense, just talking up and communicating on the field. You know you're not out there on an island by yourself, and know you've got ten other players with you."

And those players know they have one special teammate on the sidelines awaiting his turn to play again. Whenever that day comes.

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