November 14, 2012

Shepard forever grateful to LSU



When senior Russell Shepard arrived at LSU he was regarded as the nation's top dual-threat quarterback out of Cypress Ridge High School.

Four years later Shepard still hasn't thrown a pass in his collegiate career and the Houston native, who will play his final home game Saturday against Ole Miss in Tiger Stadium, couldn't be happier about the way things have turned out.

"Even with the lack of success and ups and downs I've had through my career here, I still love it and wouldn't change it because it's made me who I am today," Shepard said.

Admittedly, the final walk through the famed goal posts will be an emotional one for Shepard, one of 15 seniors playing in their final game when No. 8 LSU (8-2) closes out the home portion of its schedule.

But to listen to Shepard, who will collect his Communications degree next month, there's not one ounce of regret in his voice about his choice of schools.

"It's going to exciting," Shepard said. "It's going to be an emotional game for me. The most important thing is to go out there and get the 'W'. I want my last memories in this stadium to be a win. To be a great experience, plus make some plays."

Through-the-roof expectations awaited Shepard's arrival four years ago after he accounted for 4,000 yards of total offense and 48 touchdowns during his senior year. He was everyone's consensus No. 1 dual-threat quarterback - a five-star prospect that was named first team USA Today All-American, earned Rivals10 0 acclaim and took part in the Under Armour All-American game.

However, the statistical evolution of Shepard's career never matched the hype that accompanied his recruiting process and the hysteria that waited from LSU's fervent fan base that chanted his name during home recruiting visits.

"It's scary," Shepard said of the evolution of recruiting coverage. "When I came out it was pretty big and it gets bigger and bigger every year. At the same time I was one of the guys that fell in the negative side of it just trying to live up to expectations. With different things throughout the years I wasn't able to reach those expectations that were put on me by others, but at the same time it's a blessing.

"Regardless of how people remember me and my time here, the recruiting experience was amazing and that's one of my highlights of being a college football player," Shepard said. "Being able to see different places and able to meet different people. It's something that's going to grow and get bigger and bigger throughout the years. At the same time it's something I wouldn't take away."

In what will be his 37th appearance in an LSU uniform Shepard will look to add to his career yardage totals of 161 offensive touches for 1,298 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's rushed 103 times for 783 yards and 5 TDs and caught 58 passes for 565 yards and 5 scores.

Statistically speaking, the high-water mark for Shepard came during his sophomore season in 2010 when he officially made the transition from jack-of-all-trades to the wide receiver position.

Shepard appeared in all 13 of the Tigers' games that year, winding up with a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M, and totaled close to 500 yards worth of offense and three touchdowns.

Shepard caught a career-high 33 passes for 249 yards and a TD to go along with his 32 carries for 226 yards and 2 additional scores.

Instead of being able build on the momentum of the season Shepard actually took a step back and following LSU's loss to Alabama in the BCS national championship game appeared ready to depart the program.

Shepard caught just 14 passes for 190 yards and a career-best 4 TDs and rushed seven times for 52 yards without reaching the end zone. Shepard didn't record any statistics in the Tigers final game, getting in on just three plays, and his frustration spilled over to twitter where he sounded all but gone.

Shepard took the weekend to reconsider, listening to his parents, several of his coaches and teammates for advice and opted to return.

"Russell is a great player, a sleeping giant that no one knows about who will make people see the greatness in him," said LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, who befriended Shepard at the 2009 Under Armour game. "He's the reason why I came to this school. If it wasn't for Russell Shepard I wouldn't have come. He's the reason why I made one of the wisest decisions for myself on and off the field."

Without any guarantees in regards to playing time or a defined role Shepard returned for his final season optimistic of one thing - being a positive role model for those around him whether it was on or off the field.

Shepard fell behind a talented trio of receivers on the depth chart in August and simply accepted his part at that position as more of a mentor to LSU's young wide receiver corps that was devoid any senior leadership.

Shepard managed to make one start this season against Idaho but for the majority of the season has played in a reserve capacity until the past two weeks when his role expanded against Alabama and Mississippi State.

Shepard, who hasn't caught a pass in four weeks and has 6 catches for 92 yards this season, has been utilized as more of a change-of-pace running back over the last two games, rushing 11 times for 55 yards - pushing his season totals to 161 yards on 19 attempts and 1 TD.

"When you come into a program like this at such a young age your expectations, your dreams are sky high," Shepard said. "You're kind of green behind the ears and coming here and going through the things I've gone through, this school is a part of me because of how everyone stands behind you. I want my kids to come here. I want it to be a tradition. I want this to be something in my family and bleed purple and gold for generations."



 

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