Irish receiver finally 'catches' on

Matt Shelton received interest from a number of big-time programs during the football recruiting process as a junior at Collierville High School.

The list of possibilities for the running back/receiver included Ohio State, Arkansas, and Memphis. He even talked with Tennessee recruiters. But then bad luck intervened. Shelton suffered a serious knee injury during his senior year, and suddenly some of the schools so interested in his services now weren't so enthusiastic about his future. The only school whose commitment didn't waver was Notre Dame.

That meant a lot to Shelton, and he's glad he stayed committed to the Irish. Now a senior receiver, Shelton is getting his chance to shine. He leads the Irish with five touchdown catches and a 26.9 yards-per-catch average. He has 15 catches for 377 yards, with a long of 53.

''My senior year I tore my ACL, and Notre Dame stuck with me,'' Shelton said. ''Other schools ran away. They didn't want to deal with a kid in rehab. Tennessee had talked to me before that. When it happened, they basically said 'Hope you have a good career.' ''

Shelton, who grew up a Memphis Tigers fan, managed 258 yards rushing his senior year at Collierville despite missing most of the season. He also made 15 tackles and recovered two fumbles.

He finished with 1,212 all-purpose yards as a junior in 1999 as a receiver and running back. He caught 17 passes for 305 yards and five touchdowns that season. He had a total of 14 touchdowns, scoring five different ways (rushing, receiving, kickoff return, interception return and blocked kick return).

Shelton, who attended Notre Dame's football camp in the summer of 2000, said he didn't receive any flak from local fans about his decision to play for the Irish. On the contrary, the local folks were proud.

''Everybody was excited around town,'' he said. ''It's an opportunity not a lot of people get, so they were happy for me. There was never any bad reaction.''

Shelton's career wasn't so remarkable up to now. He caught three passes as a junior, and scored one touchdown. In his first two seasons, he caught just one pass for 18 yards. But he was encouraged about potential playing time entering this season, and he has been one of the team's best weapons.

''I went into the season knowing I would play a little more,'' Shelton said. ''But I didn't expect this much. I played mainly special teams last year, but toward the end I got to play some receiver. I am just trying to take advantage. It's something I knew I could do. I just didn't have the opportunity before this year.''

Shelton and Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn have developed a strong connection in the passing game. Quinn often has found Shelton on some key long pass plays.

''I think it has just kind of happened that way,'' Shelton said. ''He has seen me open and we have clicked.''

Still, Shelton sees needed improvement in the Irish attack. Notre Dame has rushed for 124 yards per game while passing for 239.

''We haven't performed the perfect game yet,'' he said. ''We aren't executing like we need to every game. It's been a lack of concentration at times, but we are improving. Our execution is where we need to improve most. We aren't finishing on every play. That's always a concern.''

Shelton is excited about the opportunity to play the Vols. As a recruit, he visited Knoxville for the Florida game, and has vivid memories of Jabar Gaffney's controversial touchdown catch at the end of the game.

''I think this will be a good game,'' he said. ''I look forward to it. Tennessee's defense has great speed. It's amazing to see on film. They have a lot of athleticism and really fly to the ball.''

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