Ball (Jay)hawk: JaCorey Shepherd steps up for Kansas defense

When JaCorey Shepherd stepped on to campus his freshman year, he made an impact on the field… as a wide receiver. Shepherd played in ten games and started in two. In the McNeese State game, he had three catches for 107 yards. Two of those three catches were touchdown receptions. He was the first freshman to have 100 receiving in game in 14 years. His longest reception of the season was a 68-yard touchdown catch. That catch was the longest on the team for the season.

When his sophomore season came around, he changed positions. He left the wide receiver daily grind to be a defensive back. He had a solid season in that position as well. Shepherd played in eight games, with three starts and had 15 tackles, one tackle for loss, and three pass breakups on the season.  He recorded a career high seven stops against West Virginia.

His success didn’t stop there. Only this time, it was off the field. In 2012 (his sophomore season) he received Academic All-Big 12 Second Team Honors, and was on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll in the spring semester.

“I work hard,” said Shepherd on his success on and off the field. “I do whatever I can above and beyond to make sure I succeed.”

This season, Shepherd has started in every game thus far at cornerback and has made a solid impact. He’s made 30 tackles (19 solo, 11 assisted), two of which were for a loss, and has forced a fumble. Along with Isaiah Johnson and Ben Heeney, Shepherd is tied for fifth in the Big 12 with two interceptions. Along with Dexter McDonald, he’s tied for second in the Big 12 with eight pass breakups on the season. Additionally, Shepherd is tied for sixth nationally in passes defended with an average of 1.7 per game.

Shepherd used the offseason to transition better into his new position.

“I think it’s starting to come around for me,” said Shepherd following the Jayhawk’s loss to Oklahoma on Saturday. “But like I said earlier, there are always things to do better. It comes down to eye control; it took the spring and summertime for me to get comfortable in this position.”

In just his last two games alone, Shepherd has influenced four turnovers for the defense: two interceptions, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble. His interception against TCU tied the game at 10-10 after he returned the pick for a 32-yard touchdown.

With his success on both sides of the field, one would wonder what position he liked better. Shepherd, without a doubt in his mind, replied “corner. But he doesn’t forget his days as a receiver.

“Even in the beginning of this year, (I thought about playing wide receiver),” Shepherd told reporters following Saturday’s game . “But right now, I’m just trying to do what I can do. There’s only so much you can do.”

“I played (receiver) most of my life,” said Shepherd. “I feel like I’ll always have some type of skills to go out there. I’m not saying I’d be able to go out there and be 100 percent, like the best…but just like at cornerback, as I continue to play I get better.”

He feels that it’s easier to read the players that he’s covering because he knows the footwork that goes into the different plays. One of the reasons Shepherd enjoys playing corner over receiver is “the race to the ball”.

Unlike most of the football players, Shepherd avoids social media completely.

“I’m not into that stuff,” he commented.

Sure enough, he’s nowhere to be found. When he’s not breaking up passes or scoring highly on tests, Shepherd volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Even though he’s a collegiate athlete (and a good one at that), he’s still a normal person, who embraces “Southern Hospitality” by giving others generous amounts of kindness and respect.