Now almost fully recovered from a second reconstructive knee surgery, the linebacker from Decatur, Ala., who hasn’t played a game of football since competing in all 12 Ole Miss games in 2010, spent some time with the media after practice Wednesday.
It wasn’t unusual to see Shackelford there. He’s out there basically every day, encouraging his teammates and helping them improve by doing what he can. And he’s excited about what he’s seen from the 2012 team so far.
“The way we compete, the way the seniors have carried themselves. That’s one of the things I’ve been most proud about,” he said of the 5-5 Rebels, 2-4 in Southeastern Conference play. “Although we haven’t won some games we should have won, it’s going to have a direct reflection of what’s to come in the future and what’s to come next year. So I’ve just been proud about that. Without leaders, you’re not going anywhere.”
Certainly Shackelford is a leader. He hasn’t led by being able to actually play. But he’s done all he could to lead while still working himself to get back on the field as soon as possible.
“It’s just a daily grind to get back to the point where I feel like I’m 100 percent,” he said. “They (strength and conditioning staff, training staff) have done a great job to get me back to the point where I feel 100 percent. I’m looking forward to playing again in the spring.”
But the past couple of years of ups and downs and heartache, really, have actually given Shackelford a new appreciation of what it means to be persistent.
“I’ve always been around football (these past two years),” he said. “I just haven’t been able to put on them pads yet. I’m looking forward to that.”
He also admits mentally it has been so much tougher than it has been physically, even though both were major challenges in his quest to return.
Shackelford on the sidelines
“Physically being around here and being around a staff that knows what they’re doing with your body, your body’s going to get better,” said Shackelford, who was named to the All-SEC Freshman team in 2009 by the league’s coaches.
“It’s the mental part that you’ve got to make sure that you don’t crash, that you make sure you wake up every morning and know you’ve got to keep working, keep working, knowing you’ll eventually get there. That’s been the most challenging thing over the physical part.”
Now he said he’s feeling 100 percent, actually doing anything and everything athletically, except contact.
“I think eventually it will get to the point that I will feel the best I ever have,” he said. “Because I’ve trained so much and trained my body to do some stuff I don’t think I was even doing when I was healthy. It’s doing some good quality work and don’t revert back to things I used to do. Just get it right.”
Certainly that’s what Shackelford is hoping the doctors and those in charge of his return to normalcy did this time: get it right. He knows complete clearance is just ahead. He’s counting on the Rebels playing in a bowl game, even though he won’t be able to participate in it.
“I’m going to be healthy when we’re coming off our last game,” he said. “We’re going to have a bowl, and then after that game it’s going to be like a little dead period. Then we’ll have the official visits and all that stuff.
“I’m just using all this time to focus on the things I need to work on – school and ball, really. I’m working out all the time. That’s mainly what my schedule consists of.”
But not for much longer. Spring will be here before you know it.
“It’s just been exciting to be around the positive aspects of (this season),” Shackelford said. “ I know if we get the little things cleaned up, I know we can be very good. We’ve got something good going. So I’m feeling very good about coming back and being a part of it.”
Actually, he has been all along.