Liberty lineman Kris Sheppard commits to Virginia State football team
Liberty's Kris Sheppard recently committed to the Virginia State University football team. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
National Signing Day passed last month without a scholarship offer for Kris Sheppard.
At least six NCAA or NAIA Division II football teams had recruited the Liberty senior during the 2014 high school season, but none pulled the figurative trigger by Feb. 4.
Still “extremely confident that he would get a football scholarship,” Eagles coach Sean Finnerty said. Because of “his size and agility.”
Virginia State University came through during the last week of February by offering a 75 percent scholarship. Sheppard quickly accepted and plans to officially sign a National Letter of Intent later this week.
"It was great," he said. "It finally happened – a scholarship to a place that really wants me. Honestly, it was kind of" surreal.
A lack of early offers didn't discourage the 6-foot-3, 320-pound offensive lineman.
“I wasn't really down or anything because … it was just about my test scores,” he said. “I had to get those up."
Sheppard took the ACT on Feb. 7 to renew interest of college coaches.
Among the teams that recruited him are Bluefield College, Glenville State College, Shepherd University, University of Virginia-Wise and Stevenson University. He visited the latter two, as well as Virginia State, which is a historically black college in Petersburg.
“I really liked the place," Sheppard said of VSU. "Smaller schools are better, to me. They’re more hands on with the teachers and you get to see everybody every day."
He plans to study computer science at the university.
"And I like that VSU is a historically black college," Sheppard said. "I appreciate that."
Virginia State is an NCAA Division II football program. The Trojans went 10-3 last season with an 8-0 mark in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. They won the CIAA Northern Division championship for the second time in school history (also the 2013 champion), but then head coach Latrell Scott departed late last year.
VSU later hired Byron Thweatt as its new head coach for this season, and added offensive line coach Alex Stadler.
“We haven't talked about where I will play," Sheppard said. "But he told me I have the possibility to get quite a bit of playing time early.”
For Liberty, Sheppard started at right guard and also played some defensive tackle. The Eagles had one of the best offensive lines in Liberty history this past season with Sheppard and left tackle R.J. Proctor (bound for the University of Virginia).
“Everyone knew how important Kris was,” Finnerty said. “That is why he was picked as senior captain.”
The Eagles rushed for 4,780 yards and 68 touchdowns, and they advanced all the way to the Class 4A state semifinals, in which they lost to Salem, 34-17.
"The line, we knew we had each other’s back," Sheppard said. "We were all so close [as friends]. Sometimes the running backs and quarterbacks get mad at you, but we knew at the end of the day, if someone messed up, we all messed up. We just took on that accountability."
The son of Dennis Sheppard and Nikki Washington-Sheppard, he has been playing football since third grade.
"And I always knew I wanted to play in college," Kris Sheppard said. "The fact that I will is just a great feeling."
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