Because of that unexpected bye week courtesy of Hurricane Gustav, Sheppard has had plenty of time to think about his performance against Appalachian State. Despite not recording any tackles in the game, the sophomore linebacker was pleased with his effort.
“I think I did pretty good,” he said. “After sitting down in the meeting room afterwards and watching the film, I graded out pretty well. I could’ve done better on a couple reads. I missed a read or two. But other than that I think I helped my team out.”
Sheppard also helped his team on special teams. It’s not too often that you see a starting linebacker running down the field covering kicks or helping set up a return, but those are opportunities the native of Stone Mountain, Ga., relishes.
“I played special teams last year,” he said. “It gets me pumped up. It gets your teammates and the fans pumped up when they see you going down and making big hits.”
Sheppard credits much of his success to Ali Highsmith, who is now with the Arizona cardinals, and who he backed up at weak side linebacker his first two years in Baton Rouge.
“Ali really mentored me on and off the field,” Sheppard said. “He showed me how to lead by example and get your team and defense to follow you. My first year I redshirted and kind of got down on myself, but he got me back up. He helped me with my playbook and showed me how to study the game.”
The leadership learned from Highsmith was needed last week by Sheppard and a few of his other teammates as the team dealt with Gustav. But the sophomore linebacker does not feel the missed game week will have any effect on the Tigers.
“We were fired up and wanted to have a game,” he said. “But when they told us we weren’t playing we didn’t fall down into a slump. We carried on in practice as if we had a game and kept pushing.”
When the Tigers do finally take the field again this Saturday, which will be Sheppard’s first start in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night, he knows he will get plenty of help from the men in the trenches.
“We’re nothing without our defensive line,” Sheppard said. “I’m just thankful for the line we have here and all the numerous guys I have in front of me. They definitely keep the offensive linemen off of us and let us do our job. They are the strength of our defense.”
Another factor on the defense that makes Sheppard feel more comfortable is playing alongside Perry Riley. The two have been wreaking havoc on opposing offenses all the way back to their high school days.
“It definitely helps,” Sheppard said of playing with Riley. “The chemistry is definitely there between us, and now with Darry Beckwith too. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and what we can do. So basically we are like one unit when we’re out there together.”