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Top XFL honor has former Bison receiver Darrius Shepherd upbeat on pro football

Former North Dakota State receiver named XFL's Special Teams Player of the Year

XFL: Orlando Guardians vs St Louis Battlehawks
St. Louis Battlehawks kick returner Darrius Shepherd evades a Orlando Guardians defender at The Dome at Americas Center on April 22nd, 2023 in St. Louis, Mo.
Joe Puetz / XFL

FARGO — The focus in the last week with former North Dakota State football players has been on the NFL Draft and subsequently free agent signings and rookie mini-camp invitations. It’s been busy.

Darius Shepherd, by the way, would like everyone to know he’s still making a run at it. The former NDSU receiver was named the XFL Special Teams Player of the Year, a sign Shepherd, who plays for the St. Louis Battlehawks, still has aims of making a living in professional football.

He would like nothing better than to see a Bison player on the other side of an NFL field.

“I would love the chance to play against those guys and do a little jersey swap,” Shepherd said, referring to a common post-game practice between players. “I love seeing that; North Dakota State and the success the program has had with guys that keep continuing to buy into the program, trust it and the results pay off.”

The XFL, in its third year of existence, consists of eight teams whose season runs from February until the title game May 13 in San Antonio. They play 10 games with the top four making the playoffs, two from each division. The Battlehawks finished tied for second in the North Division, but were ousted by the Seattle Sea Dragons in a tiebreaker.


“It was tough how it ended,” Shepherd said. “Not how we wanted to end the year but we did a lot of good things and St. Louis was an incredible city for us. It was a cool experience to be part of XFL 2023.”

Most of the players on the Battlehawks are in their mid-20s trying to keep their NFL dreams alive. Shepherd, 27, is no different. He was signed as a free agent by the Green Bay Packers in 2019 and was on the Packers roster for two years.

He also had stints with the Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos, albeit a practice squad signing or fully rostered. Shepherd said the tank is not dry in his ability to return to the NFL, saying the best scenario would be a team in need of a slot receiver and return guy.

But he’s also open to any role a team needs, including kickoff coverage.

“I think just trying to reach my full potential,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve had that shot yet to be the player that I can be at the highest level. It’s like you’re just trying to keep proving it and chasing things. While I can keep playing, I want to keep going after it.”

XFL: St Louis Battlehawks vs D.C. Defenders
St Louis Battlehawks' Darrius Shepherd heads up field against the D.C. Defenders at Audi Field on March 5th, 2023 in Washington, D.C.
KeShawn Ennis / XFL

Shepherd led the league in kick return yards with 907 and was second in kick return average at 24.8 per return. He had an XFL-best 190 return yards in the third week of the season against the D.C. Defenders.

There was certainly more to Shepherd’s game finishing fourth in the league in receptions with 48, second in touchdown catches with six and sixth in receiving yards with 519.

Shepherd was a two-year captain for the Bison finishing his career in 2018 as the most valuable player in the FCS national championship game against Eastern Washington. He was an All-American punt returner and was part of four national titles in his five years.


Since those years, a host of Bison players have reached — and stayed — with NFL teams. Shepherd is trying to get back to that level.

“I definitely have that belief,” he said. “I think this provided a great opportunity for guys and I think you’re already seeing a lot of buzz of guys getting invites to camps and teams interested in players. I think you’ll see a lot of guys from the XFL hopefully going to the NFL.”

Shepherd said he’s remained healthy sans the usually minor ailments associated with football.

“I’m at the top of my game and I feel really good,” he said. “The NFL is the highest level, we all want to play on Sundays and play at the highest level against the best. That’s the challenge and that’s where the motivation comes from.”

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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