Shepard out to prove he belongs at quarterback
ESPN 150 Watch List athlete
Cypress Ridge High School (Houston)
Every day Russell Shepard hears the same doubts about his ability to throw the football and remain at quarterback. It is really starting to wear him out.
"All anybody sees are the spectacular plays that I have been able to make with my legs and nobody pays attention to the routine throws that I have made because they are not as exciting I guess," Shepard said.
"I am constantly fighting to prove I am a quarterback, not an athlete playing quarterback. I love the responsibility that comes with the position. I am a leader and I want the ball in my hands every play. I feel I can do what ever it takes to win the game."
LSU obviously believes in him too. The Tigers are counting on him to provide the spark under center that Percy Harvin has for Florida as a runner, but with the skills capable of scaring defenses into having to respecting his arm, especially when on the perimeter.
"Coach [Gary] Crowton [LSU's offensive coordinator] and Coach [Les] Miles have expressed to me that I should have a role as a freshman at quarterback in play action, roll-outs and the read-option and the plan is to play quarterback," Shepard said. "I do not expect to redshirt and plan on graduating early to get a jump start at LSU.
Shepard's ambition to contribute early in Baton Rogue are more than just talk.
"I am going to attend summer school so I can graduate early from high school," he said. "The only negative is that I may miss the Elite 11 competition in California, July 21-25. However, I am going to travel up to Austin every other week to work out with my personal quarterback coach Jeff Blake. I am going to participate in summer track to maintain my speed and quickness."
The goal is to continue to enhance his abilities as a passer and to try to dispel the myth that he will surely be moved to wide receiver at the next level.
Shepard has had great success in the spread offense. All the highlights, however, seem to be with his legs and not his arm. Shepard knows as well as anyone that his tools in the passing game will determine whether or not he remains at quarterback in college. He has made all the necessary throws in high school and thinks he is capable of succeeding at the position in college.
"Lots of players can throw the ball 55 or 60 yards, that is about arm strength," he said. "What I need to do is make the throws that require accuracy in the intermediate passing game, complete at least 60 percent of those throws on crossing routes and such because I am not going to have a ton of downfield opportunities.
"I just need to continue [improving] my knowledge of the game and my position in terms of developing as a quarterback. My goal is to be one of the best collegiate quarterbacks when I attend LSU. So there is always going to be room for improvement in my game."
Shepard knows he won't be able to do it alone. He says his teammates are the key and he has worked hard for them.
"My goal is to win another district title, to win a state championship and to help every receiver on my team get a scholarship," he said. "I felt they worked so hard with me this spring and are going to work there butts of this upcoming summer and I can help them out by doing my very best to get them to the next level."
Shepard is not afraid of hard work. He says his family has given him ample motivation toward achieving his goals.
"Well, my parents were very, very inspiring to me," Shepard said. "They have been faced with many obstacles and I feel that me seeing that and learning from their mistakes has made me a better quarterback as well as a young man. I am a hard worker and I know I keep beating it in the head, but those people that are doubting what I can do, well, we will see."
Shepard is a rare athlete who resembles University of Florida receiver Percy Harvin lined up at quarterback -- a scary thought. Shepard is lean, flexible and plays with a lot of wiggle. He might seem like just a great athlete playing quarterback at first, but he's the real deal.
Still, he makes most of his plays with his legs, either on called runs or on scrambles after the initial play unravels. Causes headaches for defenses because he can break down a defender in the open field as well as anyone. Stays low to the ground and doesn't take a lot of big hits. Has excellent vision and the lateral mobility to bounce runs outside after starting inside. Excels at locating cutback lanes. Takes little time to reach his top speed. Has the burst to get through holes quickly and to turn the corner. Accelerates out of cuts, changes directions quickly and shows fluid suddenness in space. Wins most footraces.
Has a smooth, fluid release and a quick, compact delivery on his throws. Flashes the ability to place the ball anywhere on the field. Shows some zip on underneath throws and can fit balls into tight spots. Has great touch and timing on the deep ball. Throws on the run very well and has the arm strength to throw off balance and across his body. He's explosive in all areas: change-of-direction skills, elusiveness, speed and arm.
Shepard is much further along as a passer than Terrelle Pryor was at this stage, and Shepard is more explosive. He's the type of player any college program would want to get his hands on the ball as often as possible.
Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts Inc. Luginbill is a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.