Kolpack: Emergence of Shepherd may fuel talent level upgrade at receiver

Fargo Somewhere along the line in the evolution of the game of football, the wide receiver spot expanded into several subsets of the position, and with that came more detailed terminology. You're no longer just a receiver, you're the F, X, Y or Z...
North Dakota State wide receiver Darrius Shepherd has 11 receptions this season as a freshman. David Samson / The Forum

Fargo

Somewhere along the line in the evolution of the game of football, the wide receiver spot expanded into several subsets of the position, and with that came more detailed terminology. You're no longer just a receiver, you're the F, X, Y or Z guy.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: NDSU offensive coordinator Tim Polasek could give me the Bison playbook and game plan for Saturday's clash at South Dakota State, and I wouldn't be able to help the Jackrabbits, even for one play. I'd rather try and explain Einstein's theory of relativity than try and decipher where the F, X, Y or Z guy is going on any one particular play.

The problem over the years for the Bison, however, is finding enough top-quality FCS receivers to fill those letters. Since the school started a Division I schedule in 2004, rare has been the season where NDSU's receiving threats consisted of more than one, maybe two players in a season.

Only once, in 2012, were the top three pass catchers receivers with Ryan Smith, Zach Vraa and Trevor Gebhart. With Sam Ojuri and John Crockett in the backfield, that was a potent offense that had no weaknesses.

Before that, Warren Holloway, the Old Car himself-forever one of my favorite nicknames-was pretty much the one-man receiving threat anywhere on the field. There were some pretty good 1-2 punches in the transition years with either Kole Heckendorf, Travis White or Marques Johnson. Change in finding a consistent three-headed receiving monster, however, may be on the horizon, if it's not here already.

The emergence of freshman Darrius Shepherd gives the passing fans hope.

"Part of it is me just coming out and making plays," Shepherd said. "The coaches seem to have more trust in me, and it helps when you're making plays in practice."

Vraa and R.J. Urzendowski lead the Bison with 12 receptions each and Shepherd has 11-a pace that would equal or succeed the 2012 Vraa-Smith-Gebhart trio. There's also the potential of true freshmen Dimitri Williams and Marquise Bridges to think about. Redshirt freshman Khayvon Hawkins probably needs to find another gear to join that group.

Shepherd was sensational against North Dakota two weeks ago, showing the kind of athletic ability that makes a difference.

"His ability is really good," Polasek said. "It's interesting, if you can catch the ball and on top of that you're competitive and you care a bunch, all of a sudden that kid goes up in the air and makes the play."

It's that determination that Polasek likes in Shepherd, and when it comes to the offensive coordinator, attitude is as big as anything. It's just the way Polasek rolls.

"The kid is so darn competitive," Polasek said. "He cares. He pays attention to the details and that is the difference between him and some of the other guys that have fallen short. So I guess I can look you in the eye and say, yeah, his future is bright because I like his demeanor and character."

This year is Year 12 of the D-I Era. Twelve years to finally find major depth at wide receiver? Hold on to your F, X, Y or Z-it could be happening.