KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Making your first start in your home state, on national television, against the No. 1 team in the country … well, that’s a daunting task for anyone.
Throw in having to guard the opposing team’s best player and it is a recipe for a disaster.
Don’t tell Tennessee cornerback Shawn Shamburger any of that, though. He started against Alabama on Saturday and, while the Vols lost 45-7, he held his own. That surprised many, but not Shamburger.
“I didn’t surprise myself,” said Shamburger at a media availability on Monday. “I feel confident in myself day in and day out. That’s how I play, that’s how I was raised. That’s how I’m being coached.”
Alabama didn’t go easy on Shamburger, either. The Crimson Tide opened up with their best wide receiver, Calvin Ridley, on Shamburger’s side.
“When you’re playing a player of that magnitude with all the hype around him,” Shamburger said, “Of course, it’s going to get to you. You want to react a certain way. You just have to trust your training and what you learned since you’ve been here.”
Shamburger finished the game with a team-best 12 tackles, including a sack. He also had a touchdown-saving forced fumble which was negated by a penalty on Tennessee. Ridley finished with 8 receptions for 82 yards, but no touchdowns.
Tennessee used Shamburger only sparingly until the Alabama game. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said the Theodore, Ala., native has proven himself worthy of playing time.
“That’s a done deal, I promise you that,” Shoop said. “That guy showed the stage wasn’t too big for him. They tried to pick on him that first series and he makes a tackle the first play of the game on a 3-step [drop]. He gets a sack, he triggers on the run. That guy can play.”
Coach Butch Jones praised Shamburger’s impressive play at such an early stage in his career.
“I was really pleased to see Shawn Shamburger step up in his first career start, and as a true freshman,” Jones said. “I thought he brought a lot of energy. He was in situations where they tried to attack him on the perimeter because he is a true freshman. He handled it really well.”
With a 3-4 record and game at Kentucky this Saturday, the Tennessee needs younger players such as Shamburger to rise to the occasion when the opportunity presents itself.