Of the four early enrollees from the 2016 class on campus right now for the Texas Longhorns, center Zach Shackelford is probably under the most pressure, working as he is with the first team in practice at a position that demands a high-level knowledge of the entire offense and a great deal of physical maturity.
Those factors will almost certainly result in some ugly moments for the Belton product throughout the spring as he experiences the learning curve associated with adjusting to the college game, but his work ethic is one of the few things that he can control. And in that regard, he's already attracted the notice of offensive tackle Kent Perkins, the most experienced member of the line with 24 starts.
"Shack has impressed me a lot," Perkins said. "Shack came in with a mindset that he was going to work his butt off. His work ethic is amazing. I feel like in my opinion that's a future All-American right there."
If the comment from Perkins sounds familiar, it's because players and coaches alike said the same thing about one of the early enrollees along the offensive line in the 2015 class -- eventual Freshman All-American left tackle Connor Williams.
Like Williams, Shackelford was a modestly-regarded consensus three-star prospect, though Kansas State Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder valued him highly enough to leave his wizard's lair for an in-home visit with Shackelford late in the process when he was committed to the Wildcats.
Like several other recruits for the Longhorns in the last several years, Shackelford had to remain patient for his Texas offer. It didn't come during the February Junior Day last year, but an unofficial visit in early November after the staff had a chance to review his senior film resulted in that long-awaited offer and an official visit in January just before he enrolled allowed the Longhorns to close successfully.
Now, with the departure of prospective starter Jake Raulerson to UCLA as a graduate transfer, Shackelford has the opportunity to become the starting center for Texas as a freshman, a rare occurrence. Consider that Raulerson started some as an underweight redshirt freshman before giving way to Taylor Doyle and Dominic Espinosa started every game from his redshirt freshman season until his career-ending injury as a senior, but neither played as a true freshman.
Like many aspects of the football program in the last two years, throwing Shackelford out as the starter against Notre Dame at the start of September is hardly ideal, as he would have to use his football savvy to learn how to identify and pick up blitzing or twisting players and his natural anchor that results from a strong base to disallow penetration, an asset built by competing as a powerlifter until his junior year in high school.
Showing the nastiness that resulted in a 98 percent grade from Bob Shipley's Belton staff as a senior due to 134 knockdown blocks and 87 pancakes should help position Shackelford to be competitive against older players if he wins the starting job.
And having already caught the attention of Perkins and new offensive line coach/run game coordinator Matt Mattox, now Shackelford just has to continue working hard and learning as quickly as possible.
After all, that approach worked out pretty well for Williams last year.