Oxford's Shakespeare got a great ride with his favorite team to go along with scholarship
Walk-on running back Chandler Shakespeare, an Oxford High graduate, has 69 rushing yards on 12 carries this season for Auburn. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
To anyone who might call the college football player who picks a college out of love for that school a dinosaur, lower thy cynical shields. There is such a young man.
In fact, Oxford High graduate Chandler Shakespeare gave up a scholarship at Division II Delta State to walk on at Auburn -- just because -- and that’s not even the best part.
After suffering through Auburn’s worst season in 60 years as a scout-team player, he finished his undergraduate work, got a scholarship and saw action for the Auburn team that tied the biggest turnaround in college football history and will play Florida State for the national championship.
When the football senior turns in his pads after that Jan. 6 game in Pasadena, Calif., he’ll still have reason to smile about that a scholarship that will carry him into the summer of 2014.
“One of the first things I did,” he said about the day he learned he was put on scholarship, “was call my mom and tell her, ‘Hey, you can cancel all loans. I’m getting my Master’s paid for.’”
If Auburn is the nation’s feel-good team this season, then consider Shakespeare one of its best reasons for the Tigers to be.
A lot would have to go right for Auburn for Shakespeare to get on the field against Florida State. Odds-makers say it won’t, calling the top-ranked and undefeated Seminoles an 8.5-point point favorite.
But No. 42 will warm up in the Rose Bowl with his teammates. He’ll have his sideline view as major college football’s championship plays out, the same view he had for Ricardo Louis’ miracle catch in the Georgia game and Chris Davis’ 109-yard field goal return to win the Iron Bowl.
“It’s his senior year, so we’re all so glad he’s getting to go,” said Ronica Shakespeare, Chandler’s mom.
Chandler Shakespeare will have earned his view by spending Auburn’s three weeks of bowl preparation simulating Florida State running back Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. It’s all part of the job for a guy who has simulated LSU’s Jeremy Hill, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon this season.
By the way, Chandler Shakespeare said he likes Gurley best.
“I like his running style, because he’s a pretty hard runner,” he said. “He explodes up in there.”
That’s how folks at Oxford remember Chandler Shakespeare, who was an All-Calhoun County pick as a junior and senior in 2007 and 2008.
He took the indirect path to becoming a scholarship player on a team contending for major college football’s national championship. He played at Delta State his freshman year but transferred to Gadsden State for two semesters, then to Auburn, where he always dreamed of playing.
His grew up in a house of Auburn fans. An aunt, Hannah Shakespeare, graduated from Auburn.
Chandler Shakespeare’s decision to give up a Division II scholarship and walk on at Auburn met no resistance at home.
“He talked to his dad (Cornelious Shakespeare), and I told him, ‘This is your last year. Go on with it,’” Ronica Shakespeare said. “‘You’ve got one more year. If that’s something you want to do, we’ll support you.’”
Chandler Shakespeare wasn’t eligible initially, having not graduated from junior college, so he sat out the 2011 season until preparations for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He was with the Tigers for their victory over Virginia in Atlanta.
How wide was his grin? “Ear to ear,” Ronica Shakespeare said.
But that was the beginning of a year-long winter for Auburn football. The Tigers went 3-9 in his first full season of eligibility with them. Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik was fired after the season.
Shakespeare was due to finish his undergraduate work in May and considered giving up football, though he had one more season of eligibility. New Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who was Auburn’s offensive coordinator when Shakespeare walked on in 2011, gave him a reason to come back for his senior season.
“He was like, ‘I feel like you should come back.’ … I just sat down and talked to my parents and said, since I’ve graduated, I might as well go ahead and get my Master’s,” Shakespeare said.
He was accepted into graduate school, still not knowing that he would get a scholarship. He had worked two jobs to help pay his way -- one a customer service job with a hat and apparel store and the other a customer service/repair job for an appliance store.
On Aug. 17, Shakespeare and two other walk-ons, senior wide receiver Dimitri Reese and junior defensive back Blake Poole, heard Malzahn call their names at a team meeting. The coach announced which walk-ons would be put on scholarship.
“It was wonderful,” Ronica Shakespeare said. “We’re grateful to God, thankful for God that he got one because he had been trying to get one. We’re real thankful for it.”
His teammates were glad to see it, too.
“Chandler is a great guy,” fullback Jay Prosch said. “He’s one of those guys that, he’s always encouraging. He’s always there to lift up players. He’s been overall a good teammate.”
Shakespeare got his scholarship a month after SEC Media Days, which saw Auburn picked to finish fifth of six teams in the SEC West Division with no first-team All-SEC selections.
The Tigers (12-1) clinched the SEC West with a 34-28 victory over then-top-ranked Alabama and beat Missouri 59-42 in the SEC Championship Game. They’ve won nine games in a row.
Season stats will forever reflect that he was a part of it. He saw action against Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina, contributing 12 carries and 69 yards to the nation’s No. 1 rushing attack.
His playing time came much to the delight of his family.
“His sister (Lexie) was screaming the whole time,” Ronica Shakespeare said. “I didn’t get to make it to the second game because I had to work, but his sister was real excited.
“I didn’t scream. I was just sitting there looking, and I was smiling.”
Now, Shakespeare is helping his final Auburn team prepare for Florida State and a chance at the Tigers’ second national title in four years.
“Pretty much, I just thank the Lord just to get the opportunity to be on this team, after my junior year being so rough,” he said. “It’s been pretty special.
“I can’t explain this whole year. Like, graduate, get put on scholarship to, like, being on this team? Words cannot explain the turnaround in my life.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.