Barry Sanders was one of the National Football League’s most unassuming superstars during his Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Lions. Instead of choreographed television celebrations, he calmly handed the ball to the official and jogged back to his sidelines.
Austin Shifflett has a similar mindset as the featured back for Western Albemarle. The soft-spoken sophomore lets his play on the field speak for itself as the latest Schewels Athlete of the Week.
Shifflett gave Warrior football fans plenty to talk about after last Friday’s 42-7 homecoming victory over Monticello. He carried 21 times for a game-high 162 yards and a career-high five touchdowns against the Mustangs.
“The performance I had last week was special to me. It was a career night,” Shifflett said. “What allowed me to be successful was our tackles, Jacob Rusina and Ben Life not getting their faces crossed by the defensive ends. Joey Bowen also made it possible by taking on a nose tackle all night long. That game ranks high for me considering I didn’t turn the ball over at all and had quite a few scores.”
The end zone has become a familiar destination for Shifflett this season. The sophomore has rushed for 838 yards and 12 touchdowns in six games as the featured back in Coach Ed Redmond’s offense. In addition, he has fumbled only once in 142 carries.
“Coach Redmond’s offense helps me a lot as a runner,” Shifflett said. “The way he has this offense set up is truly something special. The key to making every play is simple — everyone just has to do their assignment, no matter what the play. I have to carry out the fakes, whether I get the ball or not and the same goes for our quarterback, Carter [Shifflett]. The receivers run their routes and block when needed and the offensive line just get their fits and block.”
“[Austin] has worked hard in the offseason to improve his strength and agility,” Redmond said. “He has learned to stay behind his blockers and finish runs. Credit to his offensive line.”
The journey started back in third grade, when Shifflett was first introduced to the sport.
“I had played baseball before I played football, but it didn’t stick with me like football did,” Shifflett said. “I [decided] to stick with football because it just gave me a great feeling and made me happy. I knew when I started playing football that I loved it, and nothing had appealed to me like it did.”
As his love of the sport grew, he decided to study the game and learn from the top players in the game.
“When I was little, I would look up the best runs in NFL history and it would always show a bunch of Barry Sanders’ runs and I just started to love his running style,” Shifflett said.
So, it’s only fitting that he wears the same jersey number for Western Albemarle, but it is strictly coincidence.
“It was just the number [the coaches] gave to me,” Shifflett said.
Last year, Shifflett’s world was turned upside down when his father died.
“That really drives me to succeed,” Shifflett said. “He wasn’t much of a football guy, but we still had a great father-son relationship.”
Shifflett said his father taught him the importance of being grateful for what you have and not to quit.
“Before every game, I go to a knee in the end zone and just let myself know that he’s watching me play.”
That has made each touchdown this season even more memorable for Shifflett.
“Going into this year, I have really tried to focus on getting faster and being able to make defenders miss,” he said. “Someone is bound to make a play and I want that someone to be me.”
Shifflett said that is favorite play in the Warriors’ offense is a trap on either side of the line behind the pulling blocks of Clay Nowlin and Sayer Brown.
“They set me up for success,” he said. “Whenever I can get the ball in my hands, I just want to get yards and inspire the rest of my team.”
Just like Sanders, Shifflett understands how to set up his blockers to make plays. He shows great patience to allow the play to develop and when it opens, he makes the most of the opportunity.
“I like the feeling that opposing teams key into wanting to stop me,” Shifflett said. “That just opens up the opportunity for our other weapons on the field. Our offense is set up to block any box that we are given. It’s just a matter of whether we execute our assignments.”
When he’s not on the gridiron, Shifflett said he likes to spend time outside and enjoy time with friends. In addition, he loves to work out with John Buetow and prepare for the next game.
With just four games left in the regular season, Western Albemarle has already doubled last year’s win total and is in good position to secure a Class 3 playoff berth.
“I’m really liking how our season has gone so far and I’m proud of all our guys,” Shifflett said. “We haven’t given up in any games. We go out Fridays and play our hearts out. All our expectations are sky high. I truly think we can [finish strong] and compete in the playoffs.’
Personally, Shifflett still has lofty expectations, too.
“A perfect game for me offensively would be giving our punter the night off and having zero turnovers,” he said. “All of our receivers and our backs would score and finally we would just have a fun night and do what we do.”