Left Eye's No Handicap For Sheppard

FAYETTEVILLE — Malcolm Sheppard was about to go inside his house for dinner when he turned around to tell his older brother to hold his fire.

It was too late, though.

Despite repeated warnings from their parents, Malcolm and Zenard Sheppard had been shooting arrows made from wooden sticks at their house in Bainbridge, Ga. They thought nothing of it until after the freak accident.

Sheppard, who was seven years old at the time, didn't see the arrow that nearly cost him his left eye until after it had left his brother's bow.

Since then, Arkansas' new starting defensive tackle has learned to view the world through only his right eye.

"I've been looking out of one eye for so long, it's natural," Sheppard said, recalling the incident last week. "I've learned to live with it."

The childhood accident has made Sheppard's left eye all but useless. The images are so blurry he tries not to look out of it.

Of course, it's hard to tell by the way the 6-foot-3, 277-pound junior bursts off the line of scrimmage and charges into the backfield that his vision is limited.

"Malcolm is a special kid, and one thing we're not going to do is use (his left eye) as an excuse for him," Arkansas defensive line coach Bobby Allen said. "... So far I haven't seen that to be a handicap."

Sheppard no longer considers his vision to be an issue, and he instead has spent the past two weeks adjusting to his move from defensive end to defensive tackle.

Sheppard started the first four games of last season at defensive tackle, but he had some reservations when he learned he was moving back to the position before the start of spring practice.

Sheppard said he always saw himself as a defensive end, the position he started eight games at as a sophomore last season. But it's not in his nature to complain.

The junior is soft-spoken and regularly uses the phrase "Yes, sir" when talking. He has also been the player that Arkansas' coaches single out for having a team-first attitude.

So Sheppard went along with the coaches' decision to switch him to defensive tackle.

"I'm starting to like defensive tackle. I just don't like it, I love it," Sheppard said. "I'm thinking about it all day. Just when I'm away from the field I'm thinking about my position or how I can get better at it."

Sheppard, who's regularly going up against offensive lineman at least 20 pounds heavier than him, said he enjoys the "fist fight" that comes with every play at defensive tackle.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said Sheppard will remain at the position in the fall. Robinson believes the junior can be an inside force for the Razorbacks if he can control his energy on the football field and be more fundamentally sound.

"He has a tremendous motor. He's a very prideful young man, and the thing is he's so conscientious of doing everything right," Robinson said. "Those are big-time qualities that are probably passed down through his parents and his coaches in the past."

Sheppard learned discipline and the love of football from his father, Ricky, who works as a prison guard in Georgia. Growing up, Sheppard's parents required that he and his four other brothers be respectful and go to church on Sundays.

They also taught him to not let his damaged left eye — which wanders to one side — keep him from playing football.

"It didn't bother him like say (if other) people just give up," said Evelyn Sheppard, Malcolm's mother. "No, Malcolm wasn't like that. He kept battling on."

Still, Sheppard said he didn't play football as a kid because he couldn't pass the eye-test part of a physical exam. He also suffered severe headaches from the blurred vision in his left eye.

"No parent wants to see their child have that accident, where he could have completely lost the eye 100 percent," Ricky Sheppard said. "... It was just a freak accident, but thank God that we came through it. But he didn't let it stop him."

Sheppard said his vision doesn't hamper him on the football field, adding that he can see everything he needs to with his right eye. It's all just football.

"I'm at the point in my life where it is either now or never, and that's how I'm approaching every day at practice," Sheppard said. "Every workout it's either now or never."

Malcolm Sheppard

Position: Defensive tackle

Age: 20

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 277 pounds

Notable: Sheppard started the first four games of last season at defensive tackle before being moved to defensive end. Sheppard made eight starts at defensive end, finishing the season with a team-high 16 quarterback hurries. He had 42 tackles, recorded a half-sack and tied for the team-lead with 10 1/2 tackles-for-loss.

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