When asked a week ago to name his team’s nastiest offensive lineman, Texas left tackle Calvin Anderson didn’t hesitate in nominating Zach Shackelford.
There’s no reason to feign outrage over that response. Don’t expect a heavyweight bout in the locker room between the 300-pound tackle and the 305-pound center. Shackelford won’t defend his honor by issuing any sub-tweets, either.
Anderson was giving a compliment. Shackelford will do anything to protect his quarterback and running back, Anderson assessed. No offense intended, none taken.
“I’ve always tried to be nasty,” said Shackelford, a junior who has 20 career starts. “My dad taught me from a young age when I was doing Pee Wee (football) there’s a certain way to play football. To respect this game, you have to be aggressive.”
Shackelford missed three games earlier this season with a foot injury. With him back on the field, the offensive line has found its stride.
Three weeks ago, every lineman received a championship grade in the 19-14 victory at Kansas State. (Shackelford was limited to 15 plays off the bench in his first game back). Four linemen graded out as champions a week later as Texas scored 48 points against rival Oklahoma. Last weekend, Texas produced its first 100-yard rusher of the season in a win over Baylor.
This week, Texas (6-1, 4-0 Big 12) was one of 14 teams placed on the midseason honor roll for the Joe Moore Award, given annually to college football’s best offensive line.
“I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made over the year,” Anderson said. “Obviously, we have things to get better at and we’re never going to be content with where we are. But I’m happy about progress we’ve made, especially since fall camp.”
In wins over Tulsa, USC and TCU, the line played just fine without Shackelford. Still, Texas coach Tom Herman did not hesitate to insert him back into the lineup. At the time, Herman said about Shackelford that “there’s no doubt who the leader of that group is.” Shackelford, by the way, plays alongside a team captain (Elijah Rodriguez), a graduate transfer (Anderson) and a guard who has started 38 times (Patrick Vahe).
Said Vahe: “With Shack, he’s always that guy that makes sure that if you know, then you know. If you don’t know, he’ll let you know.”
Shackelford, who’s from Belton, once was pledged to Kansas State before Charlie Strong’s staff convinced him to flip in 2016. He isn’t the only member of UT’s six-lineman rotation who wasn’t expected to be a Longhorn; Anderson started at Rice the last three years while Rodriguez (Colorado), Derek Kerstetter (Oklahoma State) and Samuel Cosmi (Houston) were originally committed elsewhere.
Those misplaced pieces have fit perfectly into the puzzle at Texas. The linemen have boasted regularly about their chemistry. Their play also has improved under assistant coach Herb Hand, who arrived in the offseason after spending the last two years at Auburn.
Shackelford said last week that he took “great joy” in seeing his fellow linemen wear the golden hat after beating Oklahoma. The overall euphoria of winning is also something that he has relished this season. Belton went 19-24 during his four years there. Texas won 12 games his first years in Austin.
“The last time I was on a championship team was in Pee Wee,” Shackelford said. “I’ve always been hungry to be on a championship team. It’s so rewarding. There’s nothing better than winning. It’s almost like a drug, you just want more of it, you want more of it. Winning is just so fun.”