Shelton stepped in and produced record-setting season for Wildcats
by Chike Nwakamma
Feb 13, 2011 | 571 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woodland quarterback Ashton Shelton accumulated 1,752 yards (1,243 rushing) and accounted for 20 touchdowns in his only season as the Wildcats’ signal-caller. Shelton is The Daily Tribune News’ All-County Offensive Player of the Year. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Woodland quarterback Ashton Shelton accumulated 1,752 yards (1,243 rushing) and accounted for 20 touchdowns in his only season as the Wildcats’ signal-caller. Shelton is The Daily Tribune News’ All-County Offensive Player of the Year. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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If not for an offseason injury to its projected starter, Woodland High senior Ashton Shelton may never have seized the reins at a position -- quarterback -- he had not played since middle school.

"We were going to move Ashton all over the field," admitted Steve Hamilton, former Wildcats coach and new Elk River (Minn.) coach.

Instead, Woodland opted for Plan B when Trevor Williams injured his knee last winter, calling upon Shelton, who played running back during his junior season in 2009, to lead the offense in spring practice.

"We just knew that Ashton was such a good athlete [that] we wanted him to touch the ball as much as possible," Hamilton reasoned.

The audible worked well for the Wildcats and Shelton, who rushed 186 times for 1,243 yards and 15 touchdowns, a Woodland school record.

The Daily Tribune News' All-County Offensive Player of the Year also threw for 509 yards and five more scores in 2010.

"It's a good thing we did it, obviously," Hamilton said of Shelton's move to quarterback. "The numbers speak for themselves."

Having an athletic player with the ability to learn the position quickly enabled the Wildcats' offense to continue churning.

"It wasn't nothing new since I had already done it before," Shelton said. "I was ready to step in and take over the team."

"His nickname is 'Ace.' Everyone calls him Ace because he's just so cool," Hamilton said. "The [bright] lights were not going to get to him. He just doesn't freeze up."

With Shelton under center, the Wildcats, who intended to throw the ball more in 2010, had to re-envision their offense and cater to their new quarterback's strengths.

"He's not a drop-back passer," Hamilton said. "We just tried to keep him on the edges."

Early on in the season when Shelton would get to the outside and step out of bounds, coaches reminded him that he was "a running back who happened to be playing quarterback," Hamilton recalled, as they waited for his breakthrough.

"We kept expecting [that] he's going to break out [because of his ability as a runner]," the ex-Woodland coach said. "We knew what he was capable of."

"After [the] Cass [game], I kind of got use to the pace of playing quarterback," Shelton said.

He demonstrated his newfound comfort in playing the position, rushing for 151 yards on 22 carries in a loss to Rome before the game that his high school coach thinks changed things for him and his Wildcat teammates.

"It was when Denard Robinson was really putting up the big numbers at Michigan," Hamilton remembered. "We said, 'You gotta be our Denard Robinson.'"

As Woodland fell behind 35-12 at Johns Creek after two quarters, the game seemed out of reach for the Wildcats.

"By halftime, I think most people [in the stadium] thought that thing was over," Hamilton said.

Luckily, Shelton did not happen to be one of those people. He led his Woodland team to the brink of an improbable comeback -- stiff-arming and outrunning defenders and "just making plays when there wasn't a play to be made," Hamilton said.

Shelton, who scored five TDs as well as three two-point conversions in the game, brought the Wildcats back by leading them to 16 straight points before his fourth-down pass to Deo Adams was jarred loose to preserve the Gladiators' 48-44 win.

Despite the loss, which dropped Woodland to 0-4 at the time, the stage was set for the Wildcats, who finished the season playing .500 ball.

"That really turned the season for us," Hamilton said. "Coming out of the second half against Johns Creek ... our kids really started to believe, and he [Shelton] was the one that led that."

Shelton rushed for 256 yards on 22 carries and also completed seven passes for 100 yards and another TD in that loss.

A week later, Woodland picked up its first win of the season in overtime, a 36-35 triumph over Forsyth Central where Shelton scored the decisive two-point conversion.

"Somebody had to win [and] somebody had to lose, and we all came together and said we weren't going to lose [the] game," the Wildcat QB recalled.

It would not be the last win for Woodland, which got a sensational game from Shelton, who had 241 yards on 19 carries, in a win at Creekview before leading Woodland to a 42-39, season-finale upset of Sequoyah, who was vying for a postseason berth.

"He got better and better. ... The last game, he looked better throwing the ball," Hamilton said of Shelton, who went 8 of 9 for 203 yards and two TDs. "When you run the offense that we [did], if you can have a home-run hitter at fullback [Cambrell Turner] and a home-run hitter at quarterback, it really opens up the defense. ... It really gave us the combination that we needed."

"If we played him at quarterback for four years, how good could he have been?" Hamilton pondered.

Hard to say.

For one season, though, Shelton's offensive output was unparalleled in the county.