Sheppard Steps Into Spotlight

HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard was finally in the spotlight Wednesday.

The senior was surrounded by a group of reporters in the Wynfrey Hotel. He was representing the Razorbacks at Southeastern Conference Media Days. It was an indication he has become one of Arkansas' most valuable players, and stands as one of the league's biggest stars.

But don't tell Sheppard. He doesn't want to hear it.

"I still think I'm underrated," he said. "I still think I'm an underdog. Even if I was the best player in the country right now, I would see myself as an underdog."

After quietly leading the Razorbacks in 2008, Sheppard will serve as the well-known anchor of the defense.

Sheppard was one of Arkansas' few defensive bright spots last season after collecting 65 tackles, six sacks and 13.5 tackles for losses. The effort was enough for's Chris Low to refer to Sheppard as the most underrated player in the SEC at the end of the year.

And enough for his Arkansas teammate, tight end D.J. Williams, to predict big things Wednesday.

"I've been telling people all day they better write that name down, Malcolm Sheppard," Williams said. "I remember when I first got up here, we didn't have pads on, we just had helmets and he gave me a concussion.

"They call him ‘The Wood' and he brings it."

There's no denying Sheppard's notoriety has grown.

In addition to his appearance at SEC Media Days, he was named a second-team, preseason All-SEC selection by the league's coaches. He also is one of two players — joining Williams — on the cover of Arkansas' media guide.

Sheppard has put in the work to live up to the billing, too.

He weighed 270 pounds — too light for a defensive tackle — last season, but is up to 292 pounds. Sheppard worked on his technique after playing off what he said was "pure athletic ability and aggression" in 2008.

"He's a very, very good football player," coach Bobby Petrino said. "I anticipate him having a great year for us."

Sheppard said he just wants to lead a determined defense looking to improve after several "embarrassing" performances last season. If that happens, there's little doubt, Sheppard will become a household name.

"I think I'm an underrated player," Sheppard said. "I want to be mentioned when they talk about defensive players in the SEC. It's just a motivation to work harder, be better."

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