Oct. 12, 2006
SEATTLE (AP) -- Sonny Shackelford grins and shrugs when told how everyone in the Washington football program compliments his intelligence.
Oh, he's pretty good at catching the football too.
Shackelford has posted career-best numbers in the last three weeks, becoming the pass-catching playmaker Washington's offense has desperately sought and helping ignite the Huskies' turnaround.
"I just pretty much want to be one of the best receivers in the Pac-10," Shackelford said. "Isaiah (Stanback) has been finding me open and hopefully we can keep on with the success."
Heading into Saturday's matchup with Oregon State, the Huskies are 4-2 (2-1 Pac-10) and two wins shy of being bowl eligible for the first time since 2003, when they stayed home during bowl season despite a 6-6 record.
That picture might be different but for an aggressive, athletic play by Shackelford in the Huskies' 21-20 win over Fresno State. Tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter, Washington won after Shackelford outmaneuvered a Fresno State defensive back to snag a floating pass from Stanback for a touchdown.
A year ago, when Shackelford was less forceful in going after a catch, that pass likely would have been an interception.
"When somebody has that kind of intelligence about playing the game, it's just a matter of them stepping up that next step," Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said. "I think that's what he's done."
Last Saturday against No. 3 Southern California, Shackelford tied a career high set two weeks earlier with nine catches and 125 yards receiving in a 26-20 loss to the Trojans. After seven receptions in the first three weeks, Shackelford has 23 catches in the past three games, three for touchdowns and has eclipsed 100 yards receiving in each game.
No Washington receiver has ever had four consecutive 100-yard receiving games.
With 30 total catches Shackelford is tied for third in the conference, and his five touchdowns have nearly doubled his career total of three entering the season.
"I don't pick guys, but Sonny, he just knows everything, he knows all the spots," Stanback said.
Soon after Willingham arrived, he noticed Shackelford taking a keen interest in learning every receiver position the Huskies use and in each formation. Shackelford had long been told to know all the positions, but the graduate of Beverly Hills High School studied every play and every route that could be called.
The reason: The more he knew, the more likely he would be on the field.
"I'd say he knows our system just like our quarterbacks do -- where the ball should go, where it shouldn't go," Willingham said. "He has all of it down."
Shackelford also spent the summer working out with Stanback and often has a very good feel for what his quarterback is looking for in specific situations.
"I just kind of know where he wants somebody to be at in certain coverages," Shackelford said. "I'm always there and he seems to find me."
The Huskies hope that continues.