When D.T. arrived at Ole Miss, the Rebels were a highly ranked team, as high as No. 4 in the nation in 2009, his first season.
Now, through two surgeries, missing two seasons because of that, and being back for a sixth year of action, the Decatur, Ala., native is simply taking Ole Miss' newest high ranking of No. 10 in the Associated Press poll this week with a grain of salt.
Oh, he’s very pleased the Rebels aren’t 2-10 and poorly thought of like they were just three seasons ago.
But at 3-0 and with a lofty ranking among poll voters and even coaches – the Rebels are No. 12 in that poll – Shackelford said there’s a long way to go this season before celebrating.
Therefore, he isn’t dwelling on it any.
“I don’t pay attention to that at all,” he said.
Some might find that surprising coming from a student-athlete on a Division I football team. But Shackelford has been around long enough to know that if you dwell on such things, tomorrow will get you.
“One game at a time, really one day at a time,” said the confident veteran of college football successes and also college football hard times. “Your days are going to really amount up to that game day. So really you’ve got to take it one day at a time.”
Shackelford doesn’t care if he’s supposed to feel another way, or if there are those who believe he should feel another way. He is who he is, and it is what it is. So he presses on with focused vision on the task at hand and not polls and other accomplishments, now or later.
“You’ve got to just take it one day at a time and just worry about the next opponent,” said Shackelford, who, along with his Rebel teammates, have an open date this weekend, followed by a 6:30 p.m. home date with Memphis on Sat., Sept. 27. “Then when the next opponent gets here, then you worry about them. But really we just have to focus on us and what we’re doing.”
Shackelford is a part of a very good Ole Miss defense this season. So far it has allowed 31 points through three games, giving up an average of slightly more than 10 points a contest. The Rebels should have a shot to win all their games if the defense allows an average like that the rest of the way.
But D.T. said they aren’t there yet. There is still room for improvement.
“I think we can be a very good defense,” said Shackelford, who has been credited with 15 tackles this season. “We’ve got to steadily improve and be consistent. We play hard, and we’ve got to fix some things. Overall we know we have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. But I think we can have a very good defense."
There are some concerns, at least so far. The coaches have mentioned there is still a need to play better, even as well as they have performed to this point.
“Just fitting up stuff better from all 11 guys,” D.T. said. “I think as long as we do that, we’ll be fine. Just being more disciplined.”
Shackelford is the only two-time winner of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award and the No. 38 jersey. That’s the best indication of how he’s thought of and of his own personal work habits and attitude.
He also has already been on campus long enough to have obtained not only a bachelor’s degree, but he has a Master’s degree in Higher Education.
D.T. currently has an ankle injury – “my health is good,” he said Monday. The ankle should be fine in time for Memphis.
But mainly he is referring to his overall health after a couple of grueling surgeries and rehabs, which he has come back from to once again become a force on the football field.
“There’s a little soreness,” he said after each game, or at least the following day. “A little extra time in the training room never hurts either. So I’m doing it all and feeling well."
Ole Miss began last season 3-0 before stumbling a bit to a final regular season record of 7-5. The Rebels got their eighth win of 2013 at the Music City Bowl, 25-17 over Georgia Tech.
D.T. said last year’s team lost something this year’s team likely won’t.
“Our focus,” he said.
“I feel like, and coach says it all the time, you have to know how to deal with success. Some of it was immaturity. I just really think we didn’t know how to deal with it. I think now we have a taste of it and we’re not complacent. We’re at a point now where we’re hungry for it. But we know we can’t take any opponent lightly.
“That’s probably the main difference. And us having more leaders and more maturity, I think those are very good things also.”
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