BY: OleMissSports.com, Phil Mayer NFF Correspondent
Who would think that a life-changing event would come from a Facebook message?
For former Ole Miss linebacker Deterrian (D.T.) Shackelford, this is exactly what happened when Silicon Valley executive Mark Flynn direct messaged him, inviting him to the National Football Foundation (NFF) Campbell Trophy Summit, sponsored by Intuit.
“He just reached out to me, and the rest is history,” Shackelford said.
The Campbell Trophy Summit, held at Stanford University, gives nominees for the Campbell Trophy - which the NFF awards each year to the nation’s top football scholar athlete - the chance to learn from and mingle with some of Silicon Valley’s biggest influencers. Bill Campbell, the trophy’s namesake, played and coached at Columbia University before becoming one of the most influential leaders in Silicon Valley, where he worked with people such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and dozens of other CEOs and entrepreneurs. Campbell used many of the lessons he learned on the gridiron in business, earning the nickname “The Coach of Silicon Valley.”
Campbell passed away in 2016 and the inaugural summit took place last year, as a tribute to him and as a vehicle for carrying forward his legacy of mentoring. More than 80 nominees attended, reaping the advice of 43 top executives who were influenced by Campbell. Perhaps no one took a tougher path to get there than Shackelford.
Shackelford grew up in Decatur, Alabama, a town of just more than 54 thousand people. His biological father passed away while Shackelford was in the 10th grade, and he was raised by his mother and his stepfather, the latter of which spent four years in prison. Neither had more than a high school education.
Shackelford persevered, excelling as a student-athlete and earning a football scholarship at Ole Miss, where he attained a near-perfect GPA and was nominated for the Campbell Trophy in 2014.
These days, Shackelford is a motivational speaker based in Dallas. He is exactly the kind of person who can benefit from the advice of successful entrepreneurs at the summit, and who Flynn and the other event organizers hope to reach.
“I had an idea that we could bring together people that had been nominated for the Campbell Trophy because they have extraordinary skills, and they have represented their institutions well and are leaders on and off the field,” Flynn said. “We also know that these people need help; maybe it’s career advice, maybe I want to go to graduate school… all these people get enriched and are moving on to do great things.”
Shackelford got to the Bay Area a day before the summit began, but not to see the Golden Gate Bridge or Alcatraz. He immediately got to work, scheduling a talk at three local youth programs.
“When I felt compelled to go out there and speak, I just did it,” Shackelford said. “It was second nature.”
Once the summit began, Shackelford met with College Football Hall of Famer and former USC Trojan Ronnie Lott, who now owns car dealerships and serves on the NFF Board of Directors. Shackelford’s meeting with Lott was only supposed to be for half an hour, but the two ended up chatting for 90 minutes.
The legendary safety walked away wowed by Shackelford’s determination to improve the lives of young people.
“I just found that it was a truly inspirational story and you could see not only that he has passion for the game of football but that he has passion for the game of making young people better,” Lott said.
At the rest of the summit, Shackelford’s experience included listening to speakers such as Brad Smith (CEO, Intuit), Diane Greene (SVP, Google), Susan Wojcicki (CEO, YouTube) and 40 other influential people. Attendees also got to tour the headquarters of Facebook, Google and Intuit.
The three-day event gave Shackelford the chance to pick the brains of highly successful people, which will benefit his mission of inspiring young people.
“If you think about who’s going to be there (at the Campbell Summit), if he could come to a school and talk about the elements of what it takes to be a champion, our communities are going to be better for it,” Lott said.
While the cost of nominees attending the event is covered by Intuit, spouses and significant others can attend at their own expense. Shackelford’s wife Jhorden, who competed in track as a sprinter at Ole Miss, took advantage of the opportunity.
“Since that event, he’s been able to network with some pretty influential people who have been able to provide direction for us, because we’re trying to be trailblazers for our families,” Jhorden said of her husband.
Flynn was thrilled by the success of the inaugural event, and this year’s summit will take place from August 22-25, expanding from three days to four. The additional time will allow for the spacing out of speakers while providing more networking time.
The Shackelfords will be back, as D.T. takes a break from his work on a doctorate degree, which he will receive in May. He will also continue to be a motivational speaker to youths in disadvantaged communities. Maybe one of his messages will be telling his audience to check their Facebook messages.