Texas Longhorns Zach Shackelford looks on during spring practice Thursday, March 23, 2017. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

BEVO BEAT Football

The Texas 22: Starting at center — Zach Shackelford

He was Texas' lowest-rated recruit of the 2016 class, but two years later, Shackelford is just as important as Dom Espinosa was to UT earlier this decade.

Posted August 31st, 2018

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We’re breaking down Texas’ starting lineup, in alphabetical order on both sides.

Zach Shackelford

Junior center, 6-4, 305

High school: Belton

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Signing class: 2016

Career games: 19

Career starts: 17

Who he was — before Texas

Shackelford was the lowest-rated member of Texas’ 2016 recruiting class. The Belton product wasn’t even ranked as a national athlete, checking in as the No. 52rated guard in the cycle and the 132ndranked prospect in the state, per 247Sports’ composite. Fellow offensive linemen Patrick Hudson, Jean Delance, JP Urquidez and Tope Imade all signed in the 2016 class and were rated higher than Shackelford.

Shackelford played for Bob Shipley, now a member of the Texas staff, at Belton. He was a four-year starter for the Tigers. Shackelford was a 12-6A all-district selection and a two-time all-state selection. He began his athletic career as a youth swimmer and his dad, Lyle, played college football for Central Florida.

Center Zach Shackelford prepares to snap the ball during the 2016 University of Texas Orange-White Game April 16. 04/16/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Who Shackelford has been here — so far

Shackelford certainly wasn’t expected to be the most impactful offensive lineman of the 2016 class, but that’s exactly what happened when he forced his way onto the field as a center his freshman season. He started up nine games and finished the year as a FWAA freshman All-American and honorable mention All-Big 12 selection.

It’s typically tough for offensive linemen to adjust to the college game because of the strength and athleticism of defensive linemen. Shackelford started in his first college game, snapping to fellow freshman Shane Buechele in an overtime victory over Notre Dame. He missed the second half of the Iowa State game with an ankle injury and did not play against TCU or Kansas.

As a sophomore, he struggled with injury and inconsistency, starting just eight of the 10 games he played in during 2017. It was a largely forgettable and frustrating season for the expected starter at center. He showed great promise early in his career and the junior season is when most linemen turn the corner.

Who Texas needs him to be this season

Shackelford was a rare bird. He enrolled early in January 2016 and was on the field as the starter against Notre Dame in the season opener. He’s now logged 17 starts in 19 games. He’s every bit as important as Dominic Espinosa was earlier this decade, a durable player and one that coaches relied on.

As the center, it’s Shackelford’s job to help recognize defenses and start making the line calls. Good thing he’s a three-time member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll. The Horns have an extremely sharp leader up front directing traffic. He just needs to stay healthy.

Filling in the lineup

So far …

THE OFFENSE

QB: Former Westlake star Sam Ehlinger was born to lead the Longhorns

RB —

WR: Legacy Longhorn Collin Johnson wants to put it all together

WR: He catches, he runs; Lil’Jordan Humphrey gives UT versatility

WR: Jerrod Heard’s journey to wide receiver has been a winding one

TE: Andrew Beck is eager to return from last year’s injury

LT: Calvin Anderson is back where he started (playing football in Austin)

LG —

C: Zach Shackelford arrived as an uheralded recruit, but he’s become a key cog

RG: Elijah Rodriguez has settled in on the right side of the line

RT: Derek Kerstetter may have arrived as a guard, but he’s a tackle now

THE DEFENSE

DE: Texas hopes Breckyn Hager can revert to the 2016 version of himself

DT: Chris Nelson, who signed alongside Poona Ford, now has Ford’s old starting spot

DL —

DE: Charles Omenihu has blossomed, thrived in Todd Orlando’s defensive scheme

LB —

LB: Gary Johnson’s favorite destination spot? Wherever the ball is.

LB —

CB: Kris Boyd: Is the former Gilmer star ready to be UT’s alpha corner?

CB: Davante Davis gives Texas experience at the corner spot

NB: P.J. Locke III provides the Texas D with valuable experience

S: Brandon Jones enters Year 2 as a starter with defensive momentum

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