PULLMAN – Some two weeks ago, as Tre Shackelford made his way through his Washington State weekend visit, a thought occurred to him.
The wide receiver had just hit the transfer portal, ready to move on from Austin Peay, where he had grown to love everyone around him. He knew all his teammates. They spent time together. It was a brotherhood, in his own words, and he was looking for something similar at his next stop.
“Once I got there, to Washington State, I felt like it was the same,” Shackelford said.
Shackelford signed with the Cougars on Friday – then announced the news on Saturday – largely for that reason. The players were all away on the holiday break, Shackelford thought to himself, and he loved spending time with the coaches. Imagine how much more fun his new teammates would be.
Shackelford is ready to find out. A second-team all-conference pick in the fall, he’s ready to be a key cog in WSU’s offense, an Air Raid approach in which he feels he can flourish. After spending three years at Austin Peay, an FCS school in northwest Tennessee, Shackelford has two years of eligibility remaining – and with some turnover in the Cougars’ receiver corps, he feels like he can cushion those losses.
At least that’s what WSU receivers coach Nick Edwards told Schackelford. Weeks ago, Edwards flew from Pullman to Clarksville, Tennessee, to visit Shackelford, to show him how he could fit into the Cougars’ offense. Top receivers Josh Kelly and Lincoln Victor both moved on, Edwards said, which is where Shackelford could come in.
“And that’s all I’ve been wanting to do, is showcase my talent at the highest level,” said Shackelford, who turned down offers from UTEP, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Florida A&M, Western Kentucky, Arkansas State and UTSA. “I feel like coach Edwards, coach (Jake) Dickert, coach (Ben) Arbuckle, they’re all three great mentors, and they’re gonna help me develop me and get me to my main goal, and that’s to the NFL.”
The addition of the 6-foot-1 Shackelford, an outside receiver, comes at a good time for Washington State. Kelly, the team’s leading receiver last season, transferred to Texas Tech. Victor, a reliable slot receiver, graduated and declared for the NFL. Quarterback Cam Ward also declared for the NFL draft.
Shackelford caught 52 passes for 799 yards and six touchdowns last season. Counting Shackelford, the Cougars have signed 27 players as part of their 2024 class. Shackleford is the fourth transfer, joining former Utah Tech edge rusher Syrus Webster, junior college transfer Anthony Pinnance, who comes from Independence (Kansas) Community College, and Tony Freeman, a former wideout at California’s College of San Mateo.
At the receiver spot, Shackleford’s addition will likely include some combination of Kyle Williams, Carlos Hernandez and Shackleford, plus Tsion Nunnally and other candidates from the signing class. The keys to the offense might go to backup quarterback John Mateer, whom coaches will still ask to earn the job.
That’s also to say nothing of Leyton Smithson, a sophomore wideout who announced his presence with a 98-yard kickoff return in WSU’s win over Colorado in November. He could also be in the mix for playing time at receiver next season.
Either way, the Cougars’ offense will look similar next fall, but in personnel, it will look different. It represents a challenge for the offensive coordinator Arbuckle and head coach Dickert. It represents an opportunity for Shackelford.
“Wazzu is an Air Raid. It’s a receiver’s heaven,” Shackelford said. “And that’s where I want to be at. That’s what I feel like I see myself in. And then once they confirmed that the opportunity is there to start and compete for that starting job – hey, the rest is on me to come in and put in the hard work. That’s what I like. That’s what I love.”
Shackelford hit the transfer portal on Dec. 5, a day after Austin Peay hired a new head coach to replace Scotty Walden, who coached Shackleford all three years. Ten days later, Shackelford found himself in Pullman, where he joined coaches in checking out the town: an Italian restaurant , bowling and a trek to Moscow, Idaho, for ax-throwing – which he admitted he needs work at.
But when Shackelford and coaches checked out Gesa Field, the Cougars’ stadium, he started to see himself coming to WSU. He graduated from high school in Alabama in 2021, during the worst days of COVID when prospects’ exposure was limited, so this was somewhere he saw himself thriving.
“They was telling me on Saturdays, you could drive around the city and nothing would be there,” Shackelford said.
From now on, the teams the Cougars play on those Saturdays will be different. As they try to rebuild the Pac-12, WSU entered a scheduling agreement with the Mountain West, providing six games for next fall, plus the two already on the schedule. As he mulled his options, Shackelford said he wondered about what the team would do next year.
“But once they told me that it was just gonna be the Pac-2 and they was gonna rebuild the (conference) next year,” Shackelford said, “I mean, I wanted to be a part of it, man. I wanted to be a part of that because, like I said, team-wise and coaching-wise, it’s a great coaching staff. So I know the team chemistry is gonna be there. I’m just ready to be involved in it, man.”