FARGO — When the University School of Milwaukee high school assistant football coach Michael Sheppard went looking for a player to give his team a motivational boost, he turned to a fellow “Shep” alum from North Dakota State — Green Bay Packers wide receiver Darrius Shepherd.
The latter is making the most of training camp with the Packers. Shepherd has two touchdown catches through two preseason games for Green Bay.
“He went from a tryout to the story of the camp,” Sheppard said. “It’s a tribute to his dedication, to his preparation, everything he’s done on the field and how he prepares.”
Those attributes also described Sheppard in his playing days at NDSU, which ended in 2003. He was known for his high intensity on defense as an outside linebacker and safety and jaw-dropping tackles on kickoff coverage. Last season, when NDSU kickoff coverage man extraordinaire Jaxon Brown was talking about former players who he looked up to, he made note of Sheppard.
That, despite the players being almost two decades apart.
Sheppard never lost sight of his NDSU roots and that’s how he connected with Shepherd, who finished his Bison career last season as one of the all-time receiving leaders. The two “Sheps” met at the NCAA Division I FCS national title game in Frisco, Texas, when former Bison players are part of the NDSU Friday practice, the day before the championship game.
Shepherd was a major factor in the 38-24 Bison win over Eastern Washington, catching a 78-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Easton Stick in the third quarter.
“We stayed in contact, social media friends,” Sheppard said. “We share some family history, with him losing a parent and me losing a parent.”
Sheppard spent 15 years in the financial service business before recently launching his own endeavor. His assistant coaching gig is more of a way of giving back to the game and a way to stay involved in football.
When he heard about Shepherd signing with the Packers, he made mention to him that if it ever worked out he would like to have the wide receiver speak to his players. Earlier this week, Shepherd had a day off from the practice.
“It was his rest day, he got done with treatment and I picked him up,” Sheppard said. “We connected for a bit and he talked to the team.”
The message was something out of former Bison head coach Chris Klieman’s playbook.
“He talked about winning the day,” Sheppard said. “Doing the little things and understanding what you’re supposed to do so you can play a lot of football. He told my players to be sure to know the playbook and listen to your coaches. Be the player that is the self-starter and his other point was leadership is everything when it comes to a football team. There is only so much a coach can do.”
Sheppard is the defensive coordinator for the University School. He was a student assistant for one year with NDSU following his playing career after not making the final cut with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coaching never left his blood, which, Sheppard said, was instilled by his NDSU coaches like Gus Bradley.
Bradley, a former Bison assistant, is an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Gus Bradley was a father to me,” Sheppard said. “I got to a point four years ago that career-wise I could take that time out of work and give back. I took advantage of that.”
He is also a track coach at the school.
“It’s great in helping develop the minds of young men and women,” Sheppard said. “Especially for a person of color. At the high school level, there is a limited amount of diversity. To have a diverse coaching staff is important and for someone who is not at the school, they ask me questions about business and life. I’m no different then I was as a player. I’m relentlessly positive. I don’t yell at kids, I yell for kids.”
And earlier this week, he got a Green Bay Packers receiver and a fellow Bison “Shep” to help spread his message.