Cougfan at 15: Shelford conducts master class

THERE'S SOMETHING SPECIAL about seeing a walk on make good. But Cougar center Mike Shelford did more than that. He went from walk on to a Pac-10 starter on scholie. And in his final game, he faced a future first-round NFL draft pick -- and proceeded to slap him around. He now runs a successful commercial fishing company. Kinda like the Deadliest Catch? No, as it turns out, it's nothing like that.

Life is good for Shelford these days. He married the woman of his dreams, Kerry, about a year and a half out of college and they have two boys -- Aiden is 4 and Noah is 1 ½. He lives in Mill Creek and manages the family business, Shelford Fisheries.

"We have five vessels – we mostly fish for crab and cod, and we have tender boats," said Shelford. "We sell product domestically and we also sell all around the world -- to Europe, Japan, China. My dad started the company. I thought I might go into high school coaching out of college, maybe become an AD, but I also wanted to run a small business… things just kind of progressed here to where I took over the day-to-day operations."

If some of that sounds a little like the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch, it's not.

"We were actually approached by them the very first year they started that up – it didn't work out," laughed Shelford. "I think the show has probably done a lot of good for the industry in terms of visibility. But at the same time, those guys have become more "Hollywood" than anything else.

"We're in the fishing business here. We're not in the Hollywood business."

Fifth in a series of feature stories (15 for 15) CF.C is running in the 15 days leading to its 15th anniversary on August 15.

Spoken like a true Coug.

IT WAS THE 2003 Holiday Bowl where Shelford authored his signature Cougar performance.

Shelford spent much of his senior year in '03 injured, dealing with a bad stinger. He'd had several of them going back to high school but nothing like this one – it just wouldn't end.

He had walked on at Wazzu in the fall of '99 out of King's High in Seattle and after all the work and sweat over the years, culminating in both a scholarship and starting assignment at Washington State -- bam, he found himself back on the sidelines with a numb arm that had lost much of its strength.

But the nerve began to fire again eventually and Shelford settled back into his starting post. Headed into the Holiday Bowl against No. 5 Texas, Shelford would face a pair of future NFL picks on the Texas d-line, including first-rounder and DT Marcus Tubbs. The Texas media before the game talked nonstop about Tubbs, but Shelford had something else on his side.


"That Holiday Bowl, the preparation you get, you're just so much better prepared than you are in the regular season when you're going week to week. I studied so hard leading up to that game. I was so incredibly prepared… I couldn't have asked for a better end to my career than that game," said Shelford.

Indeed, it was like watching a master class on o-line blocking.

"What I remember about Shelford was just how dominant he was in that Holiday Bowl," said CF.C Managing Editor Emeritus John Witter. "WSU ran behind Shelford, and "J-Smooth" went over 100 yards. And Shelford in pass protection against Tubbs and the Texas d-line, he was like a Greco-Roman wrestler, executing superior moves and upper-body strength over his opponent."

Wazzu's 28-20 bowl win over Texas will forever be known for standout defensive play – Erik Coleman, Will Derting, D.D. Acholonu and others were a tour de force. But the WSU offense also outplayed the vaunted Texas D, and Shelford was the catalyst.

"Great kid. We ran the ball and ran right at them," former WSU coach Bill Doba says of Shelford and the Longhorns.

SHELFORD REMAINS HIGHLY engaged when it comes to following the Cougs. He tries to make it back for at least one game every year. And he's a big fan of Mike Leach.

"I think he's been a great addition -- I think he's going to take that team to great places and I'm all for the way he's been doing things," said Shelford. "As any Coug would be, I'm optimistic for 2013, I think we have a chance to win a few Pac-12 games and surprise some people. I think we've got a good chance for a bowl game and I think it's going to only get better and better in the years to come."

Shelford said he keeps in touch with a number of his Cougar teammates including Matt Kegel, Josh Parrish, Derek Roche and Brian Whiteaker. And he still laughs when asked about one of his former Cougar coaches. Shelford mentored under three o-line assistants during his time at Washington State -- John McDonell, Bob Connelly and last, but certainly not least, George Yarno.

"The Colorado game in 2003, we were kicking the hell out of them -- we're way up on them, it was a third down and I made a bad call," said Shelford. "And I know that I messed up and that he's going to get on me about it. But here he comes, running out of the field at me – he literally couldn't wait for me to get over to where he was standing.

"He never stopped coaching -- no matter how much you were up or down, every play mattered. And I respect that about him. Yarno was a great coach, he brought out the best in players. I appreciated his style and everything about him."

IT'S COMING UP on 10 years since the sun set on his Cougar playing days and a Holiday Bowl victory. But Shelford, every once in a while, is still reminded of the stingers he played through over his football career.

"It still gets sore, the arm doesn't get numb, it just gets a little weak. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. It's not that big of a deal," said Shelford.

Again, spoken like a true Coug.


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