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Auburn's Shelton triumphs despite tragedy | Male Prep Athlete of the Year
It’s been a year of triumph and tribulation for Danny Shelton.
From glory on the field of play to crushing tragedy for his family, Shelton has endured a roller-coaster senior year. Now, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman is preparing to take his game and his life to the next level as a student-athlete at the University of Washington, where he’ll play football on scholarship.
“I always need to represent something,” said Shelton, the Auburn Reporter Male Prep Athlete of the Year. “Now, going to college, it’s going to be me representing a lot. Number one is representing my family, then my high school and middle school. I’m going to have to represent my city and the SPSL (South Puget Sound League).”
After deciding on the UW in January, the rest of Shelton’s final year at Auburn High School lay before him, a time for building memories, on and off the field. When spring came, Shelton turned his attention to the track and field season, concentrating on qualifying for state in the discus and shot put.
However, just a day after posting a personal best toss at the Shoreline Invitational on April 30, Shelton and his family were dealt a tragic blow when his older brothers, Shennon and Gaston, were shot in an altercation in Auburn. Gaston survived his wound, but Shennon, 21, later died at a hospital.
“When everything happened I stopped thinking about anything else and just worried about my family,” Shelton said. “It was real hard for me to do anything. It was hard to focus in class, but the teachers and principals were real cool with me. They told me that I could leave class if I needed to calm down or something. But I never really had to do that because my peers were real cool about everything. They weren’t asking me questions. It felt normal.”
It didn’t take long for Shelton to realize that continuing with his season was the best thing for him.
“I just had to change my mind about everything and focus on helping my family and doing good with my sports,” he said. “I hadn’t been to practice in three weeks, and when I finally went back, I was still throwing pretty decent. It was a week before district. I just kept throwing, and I saw an increase in my throws.”
Despite the time off, Shelton said he was actually throwing better than ever. He was confident of a high placing at state.
“I just worked on technique, came out, and threw it 60 (feet) in my first throw and shocked everybody,” he said. “The rest of my throws were scratches because I was so excited."
Shelton said his brother Shennon helped him at the state meet, where he won the 4A shot put title, capping his prep athletic career.
"It was raining and it would stop and that's when I warmed up," Shelton said. "But I could feel him. I thought I'd maybe be able to throw one 60, but I threw a couple at state. On my last throw, I was just talking with myself, threw all out and threw past a 62. I scratched, but it was weird that last throw had something in it. My brother was probably with me."
Tough loss to a great season
Shelton faced adversity earlier when the Auburn football team's 48-game Troy Field winning streak was snapped in a state semifinal loss to Curtis.
The game was a defining moment for Shelton.
"There was a lot of emotion toward the end," he said. "Losing on Troy Field showed me a different view on how high school football goes. It made me focus on trying harder for the next level."
After being honored with an Associated Press All-State team nod and playing in the Offense-Defensive All-American Bowl, Shelton began to concentrate on cutting weight for the wrestling season and making official visits to several of the Pac-10 schools hungry for his skills, as well as his 3.5 GPA and 1260 SAT scores.
"I started working out with the team and was cutting down weight," Shelton said. "Then I started going on my official visits and everyone I went to fed me a lot. I couldn't make wrestling, so I told them I'd just start working out with them. Soon that stopped, so I just started lifting."
With the wrestling season a wash, Shelton concentrated on preparing for the track and field season and making a decision on where he was going to play football in college.
For a while, it appeared that Shelton's future was with the University of Oregon.
"At first it was me and my brothers wanting me to go to Oregon, and my mom and uncle wanting me to stay close and go to the UW," Shelton said.
After trips to Oregon and UW, however, Shelton settled on the purple and gold.
"It was just noticing how the coaches were around my family," Shelton said. "Oregon really didn't show much interest in my family. The UW just came through and gave it all they got. I talked to Coach Sark (Steve Sarkisian, UW coach) and he's a good guy to talk to. He understands everybody. He really sold it to me.
"I also had to think about the NFL," he added. "Going to the UW gives me a better chance of getting early exposure to the NFL. I'm just going to take any chance I've got. And personally, I like UW's defensive line more than Oregon's."
Now, with high school behind him, Shelton will prepare for UW. Although he will miss his high school teammates, Shelton is ready for the next level.
"It's going to be fun going out and showing people what I've got. I can't wait to get in and play with some of the more talented guys in the nation."