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Shelton left in recruiting limbo

[2/2/04]For a while, Ben Shelton was the one getting the phone calls.

They came fast and furious, from college coaches across the country who wanted him to come play football at their school. Then, slowly but surely, the calls slowed to a trickle and the phone stopped ringing altogether.

Shelton is bewildered by this development. He hasn’t suffered any serious injuries since the end of football season. His skills haven’t diminished, his grades haven’t slipped, and he still has the desire to play at the next level.

Yet, as signing day approaches, Shelton finds himself scrambling to find a school willing to take a chance on him.

“I’m just trying to call everybody and see if they want tape, send them articles and clippings and get my name in front of them as much as I can,” Shelton said. “I’ve got a lot of people that have connections that are calling coaches.”

Shelton isn’t the only Warren County player working overtime to land a college offer, but his tale is one of the stranger ones.

At 6-foot and 185 pounds, and with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, he has good size and speed. And his stats over the last two seasons 79 catches for 1,231 yards and 13 touchdowns show he can produce on a high level.

“I recruited Donald Driver, and at this point Donald Driver didn’t have nothing on Ben Shelton,” said VHS coach Alonzo Stevens, a former Alcorn assistant who recruited Driver to the Lorman campus. Driver now plays for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL.

And, for a while, colleges were taking notice of Shelton.

Marshall, West Virginia, and Ole Miss all showed some interest early in the recruiting process. West Virginia and Ole Miss backed off in December, but Marshall stayed in the hunt.

Shelton scheduled a visit to Marshall in early January, but just before he was to go to the Huntington, W.Va., campus, the school’s coaches called and told him not to bother.

Shelton figures Marshall had gotten a commitment from a higher-rated receiver, but whatever the reason it left him scrambling. He now had less than a month to land an offer, during a time when most schools have already identified their prospects and are well into the final phases of recruiting.

He’s been making calls and mailing tapes ever since, with little success. He has fallen off the radar screens of four-year schools.

“It’s like you’re on everybody’s blacklist,” Shelton said of the four-year schools. “If you don’t get the notability or the hype, nobody’s going to care.”

Although the direct path to the big schools has been blocked, Shelton isn’t giving up. Several junior colleges, including Hinds, Northeast Mississippi, and Hutchinson (Kan.) have all shown interest in him, and Shelton is preparing to take that route.

“I think I’m getting overlooked, but it doesn’t bother me to go juco. I’ll get some experience,” Shelton said. “I just hope that after I go juco people will notice and maybe I’ll get a better opportunity.”

Shelton added that he isn’t giving up on going straight to a four-year school if he gets a chance to walk-on.

“I’m going to go to school, but not to just go to school. I want to play football,” he said. “That’s the only thing I do, and the only thing I’m good at. It’s the only thing that makes me happy.”