Talkin' 'Bout Shack

Now fully healthy, rising sophomore linebacker D.T. Shackelford is primed to build off a promising freshman season. Read about it inside.

Derrick Herman, experimenting at running back this spring, lined up deep in the Ole Miss offensive backfield Friday.

Quarterback Raymond Cotton had just completed a 14-yard pass, followed by a Korvic Neat run, for a first down. Momentum was building. The drive was one of few managed against a stingy Rebel defense in spring drills.

Hermann took the handoff and scampered left. A revamped offensive line did its best to open a running lane, but what appeared a small crease closed quickly.

Rising sophomore linebacker D.T. Shackelford was in hot pursuit.

D.T. Shackelford

The result was the hit of the day. Shackelford delivered a grueling blow, easily heard round Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Players and coaches alike erupted along the sideline.

He looked to the sky and released a cry so loud, even King Leonidas would approve.

It was a play Shackelford has become known for over his still young Ole Miss career. He goes about his days with unbridled enthusiasm, partnered with a determined fervor to improve.

"He's improved exponentially," senior linebacker Jonathan Cornell said of Shackelford. "He's starting to see everything I'm seeing and seeing it quickly. He's not thinking as much, just recognizing and reacting. That's the most important thing for a linebacker."

Shackelford's name won't be found in the starting lineup, but it's not for lack of talent or production. There's currently a logjam at middle linebacker, with Cornell atop the depth chart.

Not that it matters in Tyrone Nix's defense. He rotates his linebackers constantly, and Shackelford can play any and every position.

"He's like a starter," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "He can play all three positions. He does everything right and plays with some fire. He brings some violence when he tackles."

Funny, considering Shackelford is anything but violent off the field.

No, Shackelford is extremely cordial. His interviews are filled with praise for the likes of Allen Walker and Cornell, who he credits for helping him along.

This spring, he hopes to improve his mental approach to the game – reading defenses and making the calls from his "MIKE" linebacker position.

"I feel a lot more confident in what I do now," Shackelford said. "Instead of just playing off ability, I know where to fit. I'm still learning, but it's getting better and better. I know the scheme and where my help is coming from."

He might be all the help he needs, if Friday was any indication.

Shackelford broke onto the scene last season, before a lingering ankle injury slowed his progress. There were issues with his back, as well.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder played in 11 games, and recorded 20 tackles, two fumble recoveries and one interception returned for a touchdown.

Now he's fully healthy and primed to build off his hot start from a year ago.

"My ankle is good and my back is holding up," he said. "All my injuries are in the past. I used the time I was injured to learn. I watched all the linebackers and listened to Coach (Tyrone) Nix. They are teaching me so much, man, and I'm willing to learn."

Shackelford, along with fellow sophomore Joel Kight, are first in line to replace departed seniors Patrick Trahan and Lamar Brumfield in the linebacker rotation.

Joel Kight

Kight, Cornell and Walker comprise the starting unit, with Shackelford slotted behind them at all three positions.

"Those two young linebackers are the hardest working young men I have ever seen come into this program," Cornell said. "They're always where they're supposed to be, and are always picking my brain. They're constantly picking Allen Walker's brain. They're model student-athletes."

Lofty praise, to say the least.

"Cornell told me the first day that if I wanted to be good I would have to learn the other linebacker positions, otherwise you won't know where everyone is supposed to fit," Shackelford said. "I'm trying to learn all three positions.

"The great ones know that."

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