This is our final installment of the Class of 2009 series, and if you have been following recruiting at LSU at all, you already know who this young man is. If you haven't, he is quarterback-wideout-running back Russell Shepard. Like Patrick Peterson in 2008, he is not just a headliner, he is the headliner, the show-stopper. The man with the famous highlight reels:
If you haven't seen that video yet, you should definitely watch it. It's worth 8 minutes of your time. Russell Shepard is a taller Pat White with better passing skills (at similar stages of development). He's a Percy Harvin who can throw. The only questions about Shepard have been a) does he have the throwing skills to be a quarterback at the next level, and b) will his speed still be head and shoulders above everyone else at the college level?
We still do not know the answer to the first question, and may not know for a while. LSU has 4 scholarship quarterbacks right now, and practice reports indicate that Shepard is the least polished thrower of the four. It's hardly surprising at this point that he's throwing more wobbly balls and missing more receivers than more experienced quarterbacks like Jarrett Lee or Jordan Jefferson and purer passers like Chris Garrett. If Shepard was truly destined to be a starting quarterback, he would probably be given a redshirt year to polish up his mechanics and work on his accuracy. That won't happen, because of (b).
Rumors leaking out of practice have consistently said that Russell Shepard is an absolute force with his feet. He was much too quick dancing through holes and too fast in the open field for high school opponents, but apparently the same is holding true for college opponents. You hear it over and over again. "No one can catch him." If this is true, the coaches will have to figure out how to get him the ball where he can do damage with it.
Word is leaking out that the coaches are planning on using him as a wide receiver, running back, and quarterback this season. This is not exactly a surprise, as it was surely the only sensible thing to do. I really think that in the end Russell Shepard is a hybrid running back/slot receiver/outside receiver like a Percy Harvin, but even more dangerous because he can throw. You can move Shepard around and confuse the defense and create mismatches. Think about it. If he's line up in the backfield, takes a pitch and runs outside, the defense has to respect the pass and so can't converge on him, opening up running lanes. And if you watched the video above, you know what he can do with running lanes. If you line him up in the slot with Charles Scott in the backfield, you have to respect the screen and respect Scott as a runner. The possibilities are endless.
It will help Shepard that he came to school early, and was able to participate in Spring Practice. He participated in the Spring Game, in which he played quarterback and was not given a no-contact jersey. Here is a grainy cell phone video of what could have been a big gainer but was incorrectly blown dead:
It's hard to tell for sure, but it looked like he ducked under a tackler and then broke into a free space and was going to be off to the races. The defense may have stopped playing though, but it gives a preview of what you may see in September and beyond.
But on field contributions are only the first part of Shepard's value. Like Patrick Peterson, Russell Shepard has a magnetic personality. After looking at the University of Texas and getting told that they were not going to give him a shot at quarterback, he committed to LSU very early in the process and became a lightning rod for other recruits. Everywhere he went on the recruiting circuit and the all-star circuit, people raved about how much they liked him. Other players talked about wanting to play with him. Coaches loved him. He made the Class of 2009 better not only with his athleticism, but with his ability to attract other athletes. It's impossible to verify at this point, but it's not difficult for me to speculate that if we did not have Russell Shepard, we might not have Rueben Randle, Sam Montgomery, or maybe one or two others of the quality players we attracted.
Russell Shepard is also by all accounts a very high-character kid. Just read what others have said about him:
"I've coached against a lot of great football players, " Welch said. "But if their attitude and sportsmanship did not equal their playing ability, I wouldn't give them the time of day. But that young man was a quality young man, a sportsman. He hurt because his team got beat but was gracious in congratulating our players and coaches. I just thought, 'This young man is special.' "
"Everybody here feels like it's their first child leaving the house, " Cypress Ridge Coach Gary Thiebaud said. "Russell Shepard the athlete is just half the story."
"He turned out to be not the typical jock, " Sparks said. "He had such kindness that he would even take help from her to make her feel good. You don't get that from a lot of these kids because they are not taught that."
As a sophomore, Shepard was one of several players attending the funeral of Cypress Ridge assistant coach Zack Quinlan's father, Mark, a sales representative for the athletic equipment giant Riddell.
When the emcee at the wake asked if anyone wanted to eulogize, no one moved and a long silence ensued. Then Shepard got up and walked from the back of the room to the podium.
Despite having never met the deceased, Shepard spoke of how good a man he must have been to have raised a son like Zack Quinlan, and how much it must hurt for him to lose his father.
He looked at the family and said, "Coach, I know you're all hurting. We got your back."
With tears flowing, several others then took the cue from Shepard and spoke.
"I remember when he was walking up thinking, 'Russell, what are you doing?' " Thiebaud said. "But it showed his natural leadership ability. There were several executives from Riddell there, and still it took a 16-year-old who never knew the man to get them started."
Shepard is listed at 6'1" and 188#. Ideally, you would like him to be a little bigger, as he will take a pounding at the college level, but you only want him bigger if it won't impact his speed. This is a kid who is going to make an impact this year, and possibly a big one.