Routes To Inspiration

D.T. Shackelford and Jeff Scott both have inspirational stories. One about overcoming adversity. One about overcoming immaturity. The result is the good side of college athletics.

For every story on the seedy side of college athletics, there are also stories of inspiration. But often those stories of perseverance, overcoming major obstacles and changing lives for the better, do not make the headlines.

A couple of Rebels have been through the meat grinder of life, but have emerged victorious, whether they gain another yard or make another tackle the rest of their lives.

The stories of Rebel Running Back Jeff Scott and Linebacker D.T. (Deterrian Lavon) Shackelford are both inspiring, but their tales of inspiration are night and day.

One, Shackelford, was a born leader who has had to overcome major hurdles and adversity at a tender age, but came out on the other side mentally stronger.

The other, Scott, took some time to get his bearings in life and is now becoming the person he always wanted to be but just didn't know how.

There are lessons to be learned from both.

Shackelford was living the dream his first two years at Ole Miss.

As a freshman, he was named SEC All-Freshmen by the league's coaches as a regularly-used backup, but his stats and play on the field were only part of his tale.

D.T. Shackelford
Chuck Rounsaville

Malcolm and Sherry Shackelford had taught D.T. the core values of success. He was, and is, a strong man of faith who always craved, and understood the value of, an educational resume' that was uncompromising. His first priority is, and always has been, getting an undergraduate degree and then a graduate degree, which he will finish in May with his Masters of Higher Education.

But what drew coaches, fellow teammates and fans to Shackelford was his intensity and natural ability to lead.

As a sophomore, a true sophomore no less, he started half the Rebel games at defensive end and Will LB, but he was already established as one of the leaders of the team. Not only that, but he was a dynamic leader, a player everyone on the team listened to and followed.

By the spring of 2011, the team, for all leadership intents and purposes, belonged to Shackelford. He was, without question or objection, the man, the leader, of the whole squad.

Shackelford was going to own spring training and set himself, and the team, up for 2011 success.

Then, tragedy.

Not life or death tragedy, but football tragedy.

Early in spring training, in the IPF, now Manning Center, he popped an ACL in his knee. Coaches, teammates and onlookers were in shock. How could this happen? Why? To D.T.? No way. It just doesn't work that way. It can't work that way.

Injuries in football happen. It's a fact of the game. There's no way around it. It can be a brutal sport, but normally when they take place in practice, the injured are removed from the field and the practice continues.

In the case of Shackelford, practice stopped, cold. You could hear a pin drop on the artificial turf of the indoor practice facility. Every player gathered around their wounded leader. It was an eerie scene.

Once the initial shock wore off and the verdict was in - ACL, Shackelford knew what had to be done. Get it fixed and come back strong in 2012, right?

Wrong. The operation didn't "take" and about a year later, with rehab going poorly, Shackelford had to undergo another major operation – another year on the shelf.

Times that would test even the strongest of souls.

"I had never had to deal with injury, much less anything of that magnitude," said Shackelford, reflecting on his two-year ordeal. "I had so many peaks and valleys emotionally. I'd be up one day and down the next. I was on a rollercoaster.

D.T. Shackelford
File Photo

"But the one thing I never said was that I was not going to come back. That, I would not give in to. I gave in to some depression. I gave in to some pain once or twice, but I never gave up on coming back and playing more college ball. Ever."

Shackelford, always a man of faith, a man of God, relied even more on a higher power.

"Things like this make you closer to God. Unfortunately, with God, a lot of us only rely on Him when we need Him," Shackelford said. "When it's within our ability to do something on our own, we pray a little less, we ask for His guidance a little less. I suppose that's human nature.

"But when you know it's only Him who can help you, you go to Him more often. That's another lesson I learned. God is there for you in good times and bad. I need a steady relationship with God, not just a relationship when things are going poorly."

Finally, last spring, Shackelford returned to practice.

It would be a stretch to say he was back to his "old" form, a major stretch, but daily he got a little bit better. And a little bit better. And a little bit better.

He's still not back to the Shackelford Rebel fans grew to admire, but he believes he is a better person than he was before the two-year ordeal. And getting better and better as a football player daily.

"I'm proud of the fact that I believe I'm a better person than I was two years ago. I'm stronger mentally. Football only lasts so long. It matters what you do outside of football. It matters the relationships you build beyond football," he said. "I regret I had two ACL surgeries from a football standpoint, but during that time I gained so much in so many ways.

"When I look back on it, it happened for a reason. I really believe that. And the reason was to help make me a better student, a better friend and a better person."

What's next for Shackelford, besides trying to get better and better on the football field?

"I'm very proud of being close to getting my Masters. I'm the first person in my family to get a Masters degree and I know that's having a positive influence on my cousins at home," he said. "If my getting a Masters does nothing more than to inspire them to achieve, then I'm OK with everything.

"I want to get my PhD. I'll get it, it's just a matter of time. An education has a much deeper meaning to me than football because it lasts for life. Football doesn't."

As the undeniable leader of the team prior to injury, Shackelford has had to back off of that role a little bit due to his absence, but he is still a leader.

"I still try to lead, but in different ways," he closed. "We have people on the team who are more of the vocal leaders and I try to support their efforts and throw in some of my own ideas to them. It's all good. I just want to help this team any way I can. My role doesn't matter as long as it's positive."

With Shackelford involved, it will be.

Jeff Scott
File Photo

As inspiring as a comeback story is, Scott's – in this opinion, at least – is just as inspiring.

When he came to Ole Miss in 2010, he was a lightly-recruited, undersized speedster with something to prove and a somewhat large chip on his shoulder.

"I was lost when I first came to Ole Miss, to be honest," Scott said. "I was away from home for the first time and home was in Miami (Fla.) – a long way away.

"I was so young and so overwhelmed with the environment. I was so young and so immature looking back on it. I just didn't know it at the time. My eyes were this wide – everything was new and everything was a temptation. I had very little discipline."

Scott was constantly on various "lists" of the coaches – academic, behavior, extra running, attendance, tardiness, etc. While nothing he did was illegal or shockingly bad, it was obvious he had little direction and he was running with the wrong crowd.

"I was definitely not going in the right direction. I let others influence me too much and didn't have any focus. I let my grades go, I wasn't devoting enough effort to football and I was just off track with where I knew I really wanted to be in life," Scott continued. "Don't get me wrong – I wasn't ready to be a man, but I knew in my heart I should be moving in that direction, not sitting still or going backwards."

Enter Coach Hugh Freeze and his staff, who demanded accountability, demanded effort, demanded focus and demanded production on and off the field.

"Accountability is what I was missing," Scott said. "I wasn't accountable to anyone. The first spring training, it started to sink in with me, the importance of accountability and being a better person and doing things the right way.

"I moved my life in the direction I knew deep down I wanted to go in."

The first sign was Scott getting off some of the dreaded lists.

"I knew Jeff was going in the right direction when we started getting attendance reports and grade updates and reports from the weight room that were positive," said Freeze. "He wasn't where he needed to be yet, but he was headed that way."

For Scott, it was about doing the little things correctly.

"For me, it started with going all out in whatever I was doing. In the weight room, in the classroom, on the field, as a friend, and as a person of faith," Scott said.

Jeff Scott
File Photo

"I was doing the right things and soon discovered that doing the right things felt good. I started gaining back some self-esteem and direction. I got better in everything I did, which made me a better person. And that was the goal – not just to be a better football player but to be a better person.

"I got my priorities straight and started realizing what is important in life and what is not. I started realizing what would make me a better person. You have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk."

Scott put away childish things and started focusing on what was important to him, including God.

"I really dug into my Bible and learned about a path guided by Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We're all humans. We all make mistakes. I still make mistakes, but I know if I have faith in God and let Him lead me that I will come out of the dark and into the light," he added.

So what's in store for Jeff Scott in the future? He hopes an NFL career, but if not, he'd like to mold the minds of other young men as a coach.

"I graduate in May. I'd love to play in the NFL, but if that's not in the cards, I want to coach. I've been playing football since I was six years old, so hopefully I have a lot of knowledge to pass on," he closed. "I want to give back to young people and help shape their paths in life.

"I want to be a positive part of whatever community I end up in. I want to be a good man."

Inspiring, to say the least.

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