Last Modified: Thursday, August 22, 2013 9:00 PM
The Shelby Cobra was one of iconic high-performance sports cars of the 1960s.
McNeese State has a much newer model of Shelby in its garage, but the Cowboys are hoping theirs can also leave opponents in the dust.
One of the revelations of training camp has been the performance of true freshman receiver Kent Shelby, who is chief among the handful of first-year players with a chance to get on the field in next week’s season opener at South Florida.
Shelby wasn’t even listed on the depth chart when camp opened, but he was on the field with the No. 1 offense catching an 11-yard touchdown pass from Cody Stroud to punctuate a flawless 2-minute drill on Cowboy Night.
The Cowboys have a number of skilled, speedy wideouts in their arsenal. Shelby’s specialty isn’t burning defensive backs down the field or turning a short pass over the middle into a long gain. It’s using his lanky 6-foot-3 frame to go pluck the ball out of the air no matter how well he’s covered.
“He’s a big, physical receiver that can go get it,” Stroud said. “We’ve been missing that the past few years, I think; just a guy that goes and attacks the ball. We’ll probably be using him in the near future.”
He’s certainly not lacking in confidence.
“On one-on-one opportunities, if you throw it up, 100 percent of the chances, I’m going to catch it,” Shelby said. “It’s like a free throw. Or you’re playing in the backyard, and you’re trying to hurry up and beat a throw in, that’s what it’s like. I just tell them to throw it up, and I’ll make a play.”
Shelby’s experience on the high school basketball court is one of the things helping him on the football field.
As a center at Archbishop Shaw in New Orleans, Shelby was usually undersized against the players he faced in the post. Success was contingent on good positioning and his leaping ability.
“Playing against bigger players each and every week, you’ve got to learn to be aggressive,” Shelby said. “But you’ve got to learn to play them as well. I use that against a cornerback. I’ve been used to going against guys bigger than them. I try to box them out and get an opportunity to step up and make a great catch.”
Watching Shelby catch passes is almost like watching a rebounder — he seems to have a knack for knowing where to be to get the ball.
As a freshman, particularly one without a redshirt year under his belt, there is still plenty of room for growth in his game.
That much was evident on Cowboy Night when Shelby went up in the air for an acrobatic grab that drew the most ooohs-and-ahhhs from the crowd all night. Alas, the crowd reaction couldn’t save Shelby from the yellow flag of reality hitting the ground due to offensive pass interference.
It was not the first time the physical Shelby has pushed off for a reception in training camp. Though Michael Irvin carried a similar move all the way to the Hall of Fame, it’s unlikely that officials will give quite as much leeway to a freshman in the Southland.
But even with room to grow, Shelby could make an impact at a position where McNeese is suddenly looking deep.
NOTES: McNeese started installing parts of their South Florida game preparation for the first time on Thursday. … Viator said final decisions on which freshmen will be redshirted will be made by Sunday.