Wanting More

Ole Miss Middle Linebacker Deterrian “D.T.” Shackelford has been through high times and low times in his college football career. Now, during his sixth campaign, the battle-tested and, yes, battle-worn veteran is enjoying the moment, especially the opportunity to play against Alabama, his home state’s storied program.

There are many intriguing storylines to this clash between No. 1 (coaches’ poll) Alabama and No. 11 Ole Miss, but none more than that of Deterrian “D.T.” Shackelford, the Rebels’ starting middle linebacker and the man who dons the famed “38” jersey – for the second time – of Chucky Mullins.

There are many angles one could take with his story. . . overcoming an injury that took multiple operations and a two-year rehab. . . being the only two-time recipient of the Mullins Courage Award. . . working back to a pre-injury form even he doubted at times during his strenuous and seemingly endless rehab process. . . playing under two head coaches at UM. . . being a part of a Cotton Bowl winning team (2009) and being on the sideline, injured and helpless, as the team he was supposed to lead went 2-10 in 2010. . . having to sit out another year as the new regime of Hugh Freeze was ushered in. . . his slow, but successful comeback in 2012. . . being asked to play defensive end the last half of last year. . . having to learn a new defensive system mid-career when the first one was second nature to him. . . being named to the All-SEC Academic Honor Roll every year he has been on campus. . . earning one undergraduate degree and on the verge of earning his second master’s degree. . . and getting his last “shot” at the home state school, Alabama, that recruited him lightly out of Decatur even though he was a two-time all-state selection and Defensive MVP of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star clash, a fact that, surprisingly, has not left a chip on his shoulder about the Tide.

Which direction to go in? We’ll let D.T. decide by taking his usual place at the proverbial table – as the leader.

“We want to have fun this week. We want to look at this game as just another game, but we all know what is at stake. We have to balance things out – take care of our business, have fun and get locked in,” noted Shackelford diplomatically. “We have a different expectation than we did last year when we went to Tuscaloosa, but it’s still all about preparation and making sure we are ready to play. Emotionally, I know we will be ready, that’s a given, but we have to make sure we are tuned in and locked in mentally to what we have to do to be successful.

“It’s not personal with me. I respect Alabama’s team. I don’t have a vendetta against them. I just want to make sure I do my part to ensure I am as ready as possible and my teammates are as ready as possible. We all know we have to play at our highest level to win.”

While Shackelford has the utmost confidence in the stubborn, and at times spectacular, Rebel defense, he knows the Alabama offense is a much more severe challenge than the Reb stoppers have faced this year.

“They are not only balanced with the run and the pass, they have a quarterback (Blake Sims) who can beat you with his feet. They have great backs, their OL is very good and their receivers are dangerous,” he said. “We know we have to bring our best game.”

The Rebel defense put up a sterling performance against Memphis last week, holding the Tigers to 104 yards of total offense and basically shutting down the Tigers’ run game. In the first three games, the Rebs’ run defense, while good, had some missteps that needed shoring up. Mission accomplished.

“We were more patient. We trusted the scheme and the defense. If you do those things, the defense works. If you don’t, and lose your patience, you can get gashed,” he explained. “We needed to have that kind of game just to show us we can do it.

“We flew to the ball and we were fitting everything the way we are coached. The biggest thing though is that we can’t look back at what we did other than to learn from it. We have to keep doing it and we have to keep refining everything. It’s all about preparation and playing within the scheme. Patience is a big key to it as well, as I said.”

The Ole Miss defensive line, as a whole, would not be considered a “big” group, but Shackelford does not think that will be an issue against a power team like ‘Bama.

“We have to use our quickness to get in and out of gaps and use our quickness to our advantage. I remember two years ago that Issac Gross, who is about 250 pounds, had a great game against Alabama as a true freshman because he used his quickness,” he noted. “We’ve been very good up front and very solid with our depth. We don’t see any drop off with the guys in the rotation.”

Shackelford has gained confidence in his knowledge of the defensive system, something he admits was shaky in spring training.

“It’s hard work, a million reps, gaining knowledge and then experiencing it,” he noted. “As Coach Freeze always says, it’s a process. When you get into the process and start to see things working, it builds confidence and then it just keeps going from there.

“I think playing defensive end last year helped me at middle linebacker this year because I understand what they are doing and where I fit on different play calls.”

While he is gaining more and more faith in his own game, Shackelford is also building trust in his backups – JUCO transfer Christian Russell and freshman DeMarquis Gates.

“The more they learn, the better they get,” he stated. “Those guys have a lot of ability. Once they get everything down pat, they are both going to be special.”

As Shackelford navigates his final year of college ball, he’s feeling a little wear and tear on his body, but he’s game to work through it.

“I feel good, but I spend a lot of time in the training room on Mondays. I never got in the hot tub or cold tub my first couple of years, now I feel like I need to put one in my house,” he laughed,” because I stay in one so much. But it’s all good.

“The guys in the training room do a great job and Coach (Paul) Jackson and his staff in the weight room make sure we keep our bodies prepared for the rigors of a season.”

The next hurdle Shackelford faces is securing tickets for the people back home who want to come to the Ole Miss-Alabama game.

“We are at a point where we are relevant now so people are coming out of the woodwork wanting tickets,” he smiled. “I have had to turn my phone off because everybody wants tickets and everybody thinks I have an unlimited supply. It’s crazy.”

As for Saturday, Shackelford can’t wait.

“We’ve worked hard to get to this point. As I said, we are relevant. We want to be more than relevant,” he closed.

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