Bill Snyder knows what it is like to watch a player he once recruited line up for the opposing team. After 25 years with the Wildcats, he has coached against countless players he pictured wearing a Kansas State uniform.
Still, it may be difficult for him to block out feelings of rejection if Texas center Zach Shackelford is healthy enough to play against the Wildcats on Saturday.
“We would have loved to have had him here,” Snyder said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “He’s not just a good player, but a very good young guy.”
K-State missed out on Shackelford by the slimmest of margins.
Shackelford, a freshman offensive lineman who has already made six starts for the Longhorns, was once committed to the Wildcats. He orally pledged to play for them in July of 2015, choosing K-State over a host of other interested teams. He appeared ready to enroll a semester early and participate in spring practices.
That was the plan until last November, when Texas offered a scholarship.
Shackelford originally stuck with his K-State commitment as Texas coach Charlie Strong made a late push, but the urge to play college football near his hometown of Belton, Texas was hard to ignore.
Sensing K-State was losing its grip in the recruiting battle, Snyder decided to fly to Belton with offensive line coach Charlie Dickey and visit Shackelford at his high school. It was the type of power play you rarely see from Snyder, who, at 77, hardly ever travels for recruiting purposes.
The point was clear: He wanted Shackelford.
“I enjoyed him a great deal,” Snyder said.
So did Strong. The Longhorns pulled out all the stops as they courted Shackelford, bringing him to campus for an official visit and traveling to see him in Belton.
“What ended up happening was, distance played a major role,” Strong said Monday on the Big 12 teleconference. “He was closer to home here than he was compared to Manhattan. But he actually really loved it, loved Coach Snyder, loved their coaching staff, and it was a battle.”
Shackelford, who did not speak with media this week, struggled with his final decision, describing at as one of the most difficult of his life. He dedicated hours of thought and prayer to it.
Texas offered the opportunity to remain in his home state and play immediately. But K-State had recruited him for much longer, and he could see a future in Manhattan.
Ultimately, he withdrew his commitment from K-State and enrolled at Texas.
The switch left the Wildcats without their top-rated incoming blocker and gave the Longhorns a lineman capable of starting immediately.
K-State’s offensive line returned one starter from last year’s unit and remains a work in progress. Shackelford could have helped the transition, especially with Dalton Risner moving from center to right guard.
Instead, Shackelford appears to have a bright future at Texas. He beat more experienced players at center and became a starter months after arriving in Austin.
He was having an impressive freshman season until he injured his ankle in the second quarter of the Longhorns’ last game against Iowa State. His playing status will be determined later this week.
Strong hopes Shackelford can take the field in the stadium he almost called home.
“It’s fun to see how much he has grown and how he continues to get better and better,” Strong said. “You just love his overall work ethic. He is just on a mission, because he wants to prove that he is an outstanding player and deserves to be where he is.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett