Aug. 9, 2011
OXFORD, Miss. – While many college athletes spend their summer bulking up for the fall or enjoying their free time at home, two Ole Miss football players spent their time giving back to the state of Mississippi in a big way. Football team members D.T. Shackelford and Kermit Tyler spent their summers as pre-college program counselors for the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education at the University of Mississippi.
Both Shackelford and Tyler were counselors for students in Gear Up, a federally funded grant residential program that brings rising 10th graders from around the state to the Oxford campus for week-long classes. After their time with three sessions of Gear Up, the pair continued as summer counselors for other Outreach programs: Tyler with Summer Academy, a residential program for 7th, 8th and 9th graders, and Shackelford with JumpStart, a credit program for incoming UM freshmen.
“Kermit and D.T. were two of our best counselors,” said Cass Dodgen, Director of Pre-College Programs. “They both possess an innate ability to level with high school kids and point them in the right direction.”
In addition to being academic mentors for students age 13 – 18, Tyler and Shackelford put in long hours acting as positive role models for nearly 500 students during the summer. From 6 a.m. wake-up calls to 11 p.m. room checks, and everything in between, Tyler and Shackelford did it all.
Tyler, who is on a medically exempt scholarship after a career-ending condition, says that while the summer was much more difficult that he originally anticipated, it was a great learning experience.
“I heard about the programs from a friend of mine and it sounded like something I would be interested in doing. It’s not for everyone. You really have to know how to balance your time and be able to fit school, work and your own activities into one day,” said Tyler, who managed to take two summer school classes as well as attend mandatory team tutoring sessions every day. “I would definitely do it again.”
Shackelford, who wants to be a school principal after his football career, is no stranger to working with youth. In his hometown of Decatur, Ala., Shackelford worked with the local Neighborhood Christian Center throughout high school. He says he was able to draw on that experience during his time in Gear Up.
“It wasn’t an easy job, but when you have a passion for something, it makes it a lot easier,” Shackelford said. “Some days it was work, but I loved it.”
Still recovering from off-season knee surgery, the 2011 Chucky Mullins award recipient rehabbed his knee while carrying out all of the duties expected of a Pre-College Programs counselor and more. He used the injury as an example for high school students with NFL dreams who may not have considered the repercussions of unforeseen events.
“You have to have something up top. You always have to have a back-up plan,” said Shackelford, who says he tried to level with students and let them be themselves. “Gear Up gave them hope. A lot of them are lost, not by choice, but because of the environment in which they are raised. It’s only right for me to give back to the state and community.”