WILLIAMSBURG -- Football practice can tell you a lot about a player's character. For William and Mary fullback Tyrone Shelton, it reflects an accurate portrait of intensity.
There is one incident during Shelton's freshman year that still stands out in the mind of Tribe backfield coach Matt Kelchner. It had been raining steadily for a couple of days and the team's practice facility was unfit to use, so noncontact workouts were held on a nearby asphalt parking lot.
Shelton, a product of Wheaton High School, apparently failed to notice the absence of a soft landing pad. Playing outside linebacker, he was in on practically every play, and more times than not ended up on the hard surface.
"He looked goofy in a helmet," said Kelchner, "but right away you could see this kid was reckless and fearless. You knew if you could ever get him under control, he'd be a heck of a player."
Shelton, now a senior, is on the verge of passing Jack Cloud and moving into fifth place on the school's all-time rushing list. Cloud was an all-American in 1946, 1947 and 1948 and rushed for 2,058 yards in his career. Shelton has 2,008 yards.
Fittingly, Saturday's game against Bucknell has been designated "Jack Cloud Day" in Williamsburg. Cloud, who holds school records for touchdowns in a season, points in a season and touchdowns in a career, will be inducted into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in December.
Shelton had a team-high 944 yards rushing last year and is second this fall with 556 yards on 99 carries.
He needs to average about 80 yards in the remaining five games to set the school career record. Jim Kruis, who played in 1975-77, is the current leader with 2,404 yards.
Shelton was pretty much unwanted out of high school. "We ran a wing-T offense at Wheaton," he said. "I wasn't the featured back, but I thought I should have been."
"He was a good player in high school," said Kelchner. "Not great, but good."
Shelton enrolled at William and Mary and was told he could make the team if he could impress the coaches.
That was all Shelton needed to hear. "I just wanted to prove I belonged," he said. "Nothing more than that. I wanted to prove I could play."
But the chance to play had its limits. During his freshman season Shelton was shifted from linebacker to fullback, a no-glory position in the Tribe's pass-oriented offense.
During Coach Jimmye Laycock's previous seven seasons, the fullback carried the ball once or twice per game and did little except block. Yet knowing the expected role, Shelton dedicated himself to do more.
He worked nonstop, lifting in the weight room and running on the field. All day. Every day.
"It could have been 100 degrees out," Kelchner said. "Yet Tyrone never missed a day. He is the hardest worker we've had here since Mark Kelso," an honorable mention all-American who now plays safety for the Buffalo Bills.
Shelton took particular pride in his ability in the weight room. Between his sophomore and junior seasons, the 5-foot-10 player increased his weight to 215 from 180. He now can bench-press more than 400 pounds and has registered a 560-pound lift in the squat.
The work paid off last season. Shelton still was considered primarily a blocker in the preseason, but he got more work as the season progressed, and was a prime contributor when William and Mary made the Division I-AA playoffs.
"Last year we used him because we had to," said Laycock, "and he had a great year. This year we have counted on him from the start and he has responded."
Yet his success still is somewhat overshadowed. Last week in a 59-47 Oyster Bowl victory over Virginia Military in Norfolk, Shelton had 126 rushing yards. Tailback Robert Green had 163 yards and three touchdowns and was voted the game's most valuable player.
"Tyrone had a pretty good day," Laycock said, "and nobody noticed."
Well, almost nobody. Bucknell Coach Lou Maranzana fairly bubbles when he talks about Shelton. "We just haven't faced anyone like him this year," Maranzana said.
To beat the 14th-ranked Tribe (4-2), Maranzana said Bucknell (5-1) must contain Shelton: "What he does is give William and Mary the ability to play a one-back formation. That way they have four wide receivers. But if Shelton gets the ball, he's a strong, dangerous threat."