Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Jordan Shipley initially didn’t have much go right during his college career.
His first two years at Texas were marked by a horrifying series of setbacks that included a season-ending knee injury as a freshman and a hamstring injury that prematurely ended his sophomore season. It seemed like his career with the Longhorns was cursed before it even started.
“I didn’t have any idea what would happen,” Shipley said. “But I had faith that if I would work hard and handle myself the right way, that hopefully things would work out the way I wanted them to.”
After an excruciatingly long wait, Shipley is making up for lost time, developing into the Big 12’s most explosive player so far this season.
And he wouldn’t trade any of his travails to get to the point where he is at today.
“If I could go back and do it all over, I wouldn’t change anything,” Shipley said. “The injuries just made me stronger.”
Heading into Saturday’s game against Oklahoma, Shipley leads the conference in receptions and receiving yards and ranks second in receiving yards per game. Additionally, he leads the Big 12 with an average of 18.9 yards per punt return and is tied for the national lead with two punt returns for touchdowns.
Combating Shipley already has caught the attention of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
"It's always a challenge," Stoops said. “He’s a guy you have to account for on every play.”
Last year’s Oklahoma game represented his coming out party. Because the Longhorns lacked a true tight end, he was moved inside to a flex end position where he produced 11 catches for 112 yards to spark Texas’ offensive attack. And his dramatic Red River Rivalry record 96-yard kickoff return pulled the Longhorns from an early deficit, helping to spark Texas’ 45-35 comeback victory.
Shipley played that slot position for most of the rest of the season, producing 89 catches for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But with the graduation of Quan Cosby, Shipley has moved outside and has flourished so far this season at the new position.
He produced 11 catches for 147 yards -- his school-record third straight double-digit reception performance -- to spark the Longhorns’ 38-14 victory over Colorado. And for good measure, he also produced a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that help blow open the closer-than-expected game with the Buffaloes.
“That was one of the greatest games in the history of the school,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.
If Shipley continues at his current pace, he would smash every single-season receiving record in school history.
His multiplicity of talents was first showcased in high school in Burnet, Texas, where he was the prime receiver on a team quarterbacked by former Texas A&M star Stephen McGee. Shipley produced the second-most receiving yards in national high school history (5,424), notched 23 interceptions as a defensive back, returned 18 kicks for touchdowns and was his team’s kicker.
His knack for making big plays was apparent early in his career. As a freshman at Class A Rotan, Shipley produced 459 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns on punt returns in his first high school game.
That was only a start. He's continued in college, developing into the Longhorns’ prime receiver, punt returner and holder for kicks.
Colt McCoy, who finished second in the Heisman last season and is Shipley’s roommate, believes that Shipley deserves a trip to the Heisman presentation.
“Sure,'' McCoy said. "In our offense, Jordan will get the ball. He's playing the position that Quan played last year, and the thing that sets him up is that he can return kicks and punts.”
The move outside has come with some changes in coverage for Shipley. He’s facing more direct man-to-man coverage than when he played in the slot and was mostly matched with slower linebackers and safeties.
The new position and his recent notoriety also are changing how opponents try to combat him. More defenses are relying on press coverage as he tries to get off the line of scrimmage.
That’s a little more difficult for the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster to overcome. But he’s making the most of his opportunities when they come despite the change.
“It’s different being on the outside,” Shipley said. “You’ve got to be really physically to get off the press. I don’t know if it’s harder, but it has a different feel.”
His big season almost didn’t come about. He earned a sixth season of eligibility only after petitioning the NCAA following last season because of the earlier injuries.
Shipley will turn 24 in December, causing his teammates to kid him about his advanced age. When he arrived at Texas in 2004, Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson were still on the team’s roster, and Vince Young was in his first full season as the Longhorns’ starter.
But Shipley can't imagine being any place but playing for the Longhorns.
“It’s such a rush to be back here,” Shipley said. “I’m just thrilled to be back at Texas for one more year and having fun every week.”