Carson Shacklett looks the part of the cool kid in a high school movie.
Handsome. Smart. Confident. Popular. Quarterback of the Brentwood High football team, one of the stars of its baseball team—both really good teams, by the way.
When he’s done with high school soon, Shacklett will head a few miles north to play baseball, on scholarship, at Belmont.
So yes, it’s a good life. God blessed Shacklett with many things.
But getting to where he’s heading next involved the things that make Shacklett tick. It entails plans that Shacklett didn’t even desire even six months ago. That’s where the story gets interesting.
Shacklett grew up playing football and baseball. He loved the first and liked the second. His dream was to be a college quarterback, so naturally, something had to give.
So, that something was summer travel baseball. Shacklett wanted to use that time to focus on football.
Two years ago, that looked like the right call. By his junior year, Shacklett was the starting quarterback for one of the area’s better public-school programs.
After overcoming a 1-3 start to the 2016 season, Shacklett got Brentwood rolling. The Bruins were on their way to seven wins in eight games, the last in the sequence being a 34-27 win over Memphis Central in Round 2 of the TSSAA Playoffs.
Then, something went wrong on one play for Shacklett late in that game.
“It was just a sweep to the left. I fell hard on my shoulder. I thought I dislocated it, I just kind of shoved it back in and the next play I took off again and it just blew out,” he remembers
He’d broken his collarbone. Kaden Dreier took over, and the Bruins survived that week, and beat Centennial the next.
Shacklett came back strong in 2017, his senior season. He completed 68.5 percent of his 235 throws for 2,400 yards, 24 touchdowns, just five interceptions, plus, 308 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns, in 2017. We selected him the second-best offensive player in our 17-school coverage area, ahead of a slew of guys who got NCAA Division I scholarships.
… and broken dreams
But Shacklett experienced another second-round playoff disappointment. Brentwood, 10-1 coming in, lost 28-13 to the same Cane Ridge team it had beaten 41-21 in Week 2.
“We let one slip away from us,” Shacklett remembers.
It wasn’t the last time football let him down. Shacklett wanted to play college football. But the right opportunity never came along.
“I think in our eyes, we felt Carson could play at the FCS level. UT-Martin, UTC, those type schools, Furman, because he’s a good student. And I think the market told us. He had great offers from Bethel, a lot of D-2 and NAIA looks. He even had money at those places, some good packages,” his football coach, Ron Crawford, said in May.
But as much as it pained him, the resilient realist started to move on with life. In early May, he talked about it matter-of-factly, with little tinge of regret.
“I kind of knew deep down after the Cane Ridge game,” Shacklett remembers. “I kind of felt something, I knew that my time with football was done and I knew baseball was going to open.”Shacklett wasn’t the only one who struggled to accept the outcome.
“Sometimes as a coach, with a guy that’s done so much for you and been such a vital part of your team’s success, you’re pulling for him so much that sometimes we have blinders on as to what level we can play at this. I know this, he was a great football player at Brentwood High School. Really more than that, just a great teammate, a great ambassador for our school, and also an outstanding baseball player,” Crawford added.
A different view
Brentwood baseball coach Bill Moore always knew that Shacklett wanted football first, but felt he was better suited for baseball.
But Moore didn’t see it immediately, either. Two years ago, Shacklett was planted on his bench.
“His sophomore year, we were searching for a spark,” Moore remembers. “We were trying some other guys in the outfield and nothing was really sticking. … We said, ‘Let’s give Shacklett a shot,’ and here we are two years later and can’t get him in the lineup. He’s been a fixture ever since.”
So, Moore can be forgiven for missing it at first. Baseball prospects are identified for their “tools”—ability to hit, to hit for power, to run, to throw and to field. And if you ask Shacklett to identify his best ones, he initially struggles to answer.
“I don’t have a bad, bad weakness or anything,” he says. “I pride myself (on defense) and playing the game the right way,” Shacklett says.
“That’s interesting that he says that,” Moore responds. “I think that’s why he didn’t get maybe some attention because there isn’t just one thing he does that just jumps off at you. Carson is really athletic, he throws it well, but not great. He runs well, but guys may run faster. I think Carson’s kind of close to that.
“What Carson does that I think is his best attribute is that he’s just a competitor. He isn’t afraid to be in those clutch spots, he isn’t afraid to be in the moment. He almost wants to be in it. I almost feel like he’s a really composed player, and when you’re competitive like he is, you can be successful in those key situations.”
Down in the count on Plan B
So, Shacklett started his baseball pursuit with one strike against him, that being that he hadn’t really pursued it.
There was also a second: it’s a lot more difficult to play Division I college baseball without playing the summer travel ball circuit.
Shacklett hadn’t played summer ball in years. Not only did that kill his exposure, but, the early baseball signing period was in November of 2017. So, there weren’t nearly as many scholarships to be had.
Moore played catch-up on Shacklett’s behalf, asking college coaches to come take a look. Belmont, which recruits Williamson County heavily, came to some practices and early games, and it didn’t take long for Belmont to see those same things.
Shacklett’s new dream had been realized within weeks. He accepted a scholarship offer to play at Belmont, and signed in April.
Shacklett was batting .385 with five home runs heading into the playoffs. He’ll likely play left field at Belmont.
Crawford believes that the same things that made him a great football player will help him in collegiate baseball.
“(He’s got a) slow heartbeat. The moment’s not too big. Doesn’t get bright-eyed when the big lights are on. Seems to make clutch plays for them, whether it’s defensively or at the plate,” he says.
Carrying tools for life
Shacklett wants to major in business, with an emphasis in finance. Crawford thinks he has the tools to succeed there, too.
“He knows how to get along with authority figures,” Crawford says. “He treats people with respect. I guarantee you, he gets all his assignments done, in and on time, so he’s always here, he’s always early, he’s agreeable and accountable. And if you do all those things, whether you’re a great student or not, you’re going to do well in school. That’s what success is all about, it’s being agreeable and accountable.”
“I think (business is) a good fit for him,” Brown adds. “We never really talked about that aspect. I just think he has the makeup to be successful in whatever he decides. He has so many intangibles and attributes, he does a lot of things that are going to help you in life. He works hard. That helps you in life. He plays hard. That helps you in life. And he’s a great teammate. That helps you in life, too. You’re going to have to be a teammate in business. You’re going to have to work hard, you’re going to have to be a teammate in business, you’re going to have to work with other people.
“He has all those things.”