In Shepard’s first comments to the media since his compliance issues due to an off-campus housing situation came to light in July, he answered one question after another about what happened and what the future holds.
The party line from LSU when Shepard was abruptly pulled out of an appearance at SEC Media Days was that he was dealing with a personal issue, and that’s still the case.
Behind the scenes, a university source said Tuesday that the situation with Shepard is headed toward a conclusion soon and that the player has done all he can or needs to.
In a quieter than normal voice, Shepard took a swing at explaining what happened, but never completely filled in the blanks.
“It was, like everybody knows, a housing issue,” Shepard said. “It’s out of my hands at this point and time. It’s a process and there’s nothing I can do about it. When that day comes, I just have to deal with whatever comes my way.”
“I was told it was going to be a process, something I’m going to have to deal with when it comes. I’ve been told everything is going pretty good and there’s going to be a good solution when it’s all said it done.”
The details of what got Shepard in trouble remain sketchy.
What is known is that Shepard moved into off-campus housing at the start of the summer for the first time since he arrived at LSU, and the compliance problem is tied into how he used the housing allowance he receives as part of his scholarship package.
He said his misstep was not an intentional mistake and that he was surprised when the compliance office contacted him to let him know there was a problem.
“It was something that was one of those things that you have no clue about it,” Shepard said. “It popped up out of nowhere and all of a sudden there’s all this mayhem.”
And maddening uncertainty.
LSU coach Les Miles has repeatedly said he doesn’t expect Shepard’s situation to amount to much. While that may wind up being true, the frustration of not knowing in the meantime isn’t a lot of fun for a player who arrives at a crossroad in his junior season anxious for a breakthrough.
“It would humble anybody,” Shepard said. “When you work your whole life for something and you know at times there are things that can jeopardize your dream … When you have something tug at it, it will mess you with you. It’s definitely been a humbling experience.”
For some reason, Shepard didn’t seem as optimistic as Miles about the eventual outcome when he was asked if he thought he’d be on the field against Oregon on Sept. 3. He went from answering with uncertainty to waxing philosophical when asked what going through this rough patch has taught him.
“You never know,” Shepard said. “At this point and time it’s out of my hands. All I can do is play football and be there with my family, be there for my team, and try to do what I can to help us win football games.
“The game doesn’t last forever. At any point and time this game can be taken away from you. I’ve taken what I’m going through and put it in my heart. It’s helped me realize that I’m blessed to play college football and I have to take every day like it’s my last.”
Meanwhile, Shepard has maintained his focus on the field.
Through five days of work, he has shown promising signs of progress – from running sharper routes to catching the ball more consistently to emerging as more of a vocal leader at a position badly in need of one with Terrance Toliver no longer around.
“Russell has really been a guy who has shown me we can rely on him this season,” receivers coach/passing game coordinator Billy Gonzales said. “He’s working harder than he ever has in practice and his focus is really setting a great example for all the young guys we have in our group.”
That seems to be part necessity – Shepard and Rueben Randle are the only two LSU receivers who have played much – and part therapeutic catharsis as Shepard nervously waits out whatever decision is handed down.
But there’s also a sense of urgency involved. Last season Shepard caught 33 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown and also rushed 32 times for 236 yards and a pair of scores. He fizzled after a quick start, though, and faded from game plans as the season went on.
Now, with a talented class of sophomores to compete with, as well as a wave of freshmen that won’t wait on the shelf very long, Shepard will have to work hard to play well enough to remain a starter.
“I’ve had good practices, probably my best camp so far from a receiver standpoint,” Shepard said.” We’ve got a little more depth in the room this year and we’re definitely taking that next step to being the kind of great receiving corps that LSU has had in the past.”
All that matters for now, though, is Shepard’s immediate future.
Shepard said he’ll be very glad when a resolution arrives and he knows what the next step is.
Meanwhile, Miles has made it clear he’ll stand by the former five-star recruit throughout the process.
“Coach Miles is like a second father figure for me,” Shepard said. “My mom and dad aren’t here with me and he steps into that role. He supports me in everything I do and if it wasn’t for that man, I don’t think I’d probably even be at this school. The support he shows me as well as my family and my teammates is second to none.”
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