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He'd Trade His Spartan Lifestyle for NFL

December 01, 2001|ERIC STEPHENS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Edell Shepherd has more receptions than Florida's Jabar Gaffney, more yards than Michigan's Marquise Walker and more touchdowns than Lee Evans of Wisconsin and Josh Reed of Louisiana State.

What does that mean? Simply that Shepherd has better statistics than four wide receivers who are considered among college football's finest, who are among 11 candidates for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the best wideout.

Now the bigger question. Who is Edell Shepherd?

"I think if you would see me coming down the street in regular street clothes, you wouldn't even think I'm a football player," said Shepherd, a senior at San Jose State.

Now here's the catch. Shepherd has done this playing for an otherwise forgettable Spartan team that is 3-8 heading into today's home game against No. 12 Stanford.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Shepherd is not a Biletnikoff Award candidate. He wasn't on anyone's radar screen at the start of the season. And as late as last month, his name still hadn't appeared on some NFL draft prospect lists.

Still, Shepherd is having a record-breaking season. With 76 catches for 1,393 yards and 13 touchdowns, the former Dorsey High and West L.A. College star holds San Jose State records for single-game receiving yardage, touchdowns in a season and career (17), and he shares the record for most touchdown receptions in a game, three.

"He's a playmaker," San Jose State Coach Fitz Hill told the Spartan Daily student newspaper. "He just has natural skill. He's not the fastest guy, but he's gifted to know how to make big plays."

He also has put up those big numbers against big schools. After starting the year with a modest five-catch, 53-yard effort against USC, Shepherd had six receptions for 60 yards against Colorado, then 10 receptions for 122 yards against Arizona State. He set his single-game yardage record against Nevada with 269 yards on nine catches, three for scores.

What might have drawn the most attention was his performance last week against No. 21 Fresno State. In a 40-21 loss, Shepherd caught eight passes for 264 yards with two touchdowns. Recognition, though, has been slow to arrive for the receiver. He figures that he needs a big game today to open more eyes.

"Before [last week], I was hearing people say, 'Well, let's see what he does against good teams,"' Shepherd said. "I had an 87-yard touchdown on the first play against a so-called good defense and I still heard that I need to play against a good team. If I have a good game [against Stanford], I think it will put a stamp on my season."

The gaudy statistics don't surprise Darryl Holmes, the West L.A. associate coach who is used to seeing talented receivers come through the program. Among those who have played for the Oilers are NFL stars Keyshawn Johnson and Isaac Bruce.

"The guy he kind of reminds me of is Isaac Bruce," Holmes said. "Tall and rangy. Edell is really smooth, like Isaac. It never looks like he's running as fast as he is. Deceptively strong and deceptively fast."

As a senior at Dorsey, Shepherd was an All-City Section receiver for a run-oriented team. But his development really didn't begin until he got to West L.A.

Retiring West L.A. Coach Rob Hager said his former player was a "a tall, lean guy who had to grow into his body."

Holmes put it another way.

"He was about 150 pounds, if that," Holmes said. "He looked like one of those starving kids you see on a poster or on those TV shows."

Shepherd has almost always been overlooked. He graduated from Dorsey but didn't get a qualifying score on the SAT and headed for West L.A. after a quick stop at Ricks College in Idaho.

At West L.A., he broke out midway through his sophomore year, according to Holmes.

Still, San Jose was one of the few real offers Shepherd had. Now he has been the Spartans' saving grace. "I think I do take people by surprise," he said.

Growing up in the Crenshaw section of Los Angeles, Shepherd dreamed of playing pro football. He worked out his routes on plays drawn up on someone's hand. The love for the game has lasted. On Sundays, he watches some games and tapes others. There are so many tapes that they no longer fit in one room.

"My girlfriend says, 'Is that all you watch on TV?"' he joked. "I could watch some games over and over and over."

Naturally, Shepherd wants to be on some of those tapes. But in his quest to play in the NFL, he has three things working against him: He is slightly built, doesn't have blazing speed and doesn't play in a program that gets national exposure. San Jose officials are trying to get him into one of the postseason all-star games and Shepherd thinks he has a good shot at the Blue-Gray game on Christmas Day.

"There's always guys from smaller schools that make it in the NFL and there are guys from the big-name schools that end up being busts," he said. "I'll get a chance somewhere.

"I'm not the biggest guy. I'm not the fastest guy. But I get the job done. That's all that matters."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Caught in the Act

San Jose State's Edell Shepherd is among nation's top receivers. A comparison:

*--*

Yards per Name School Games Receptions Yards TD catch Kevin Curtis Utah St. 10 93 1,421 9 15.3 Josh Reed LSU 10 80 1,494 6 18.7 Darius Watts Marshall 11 82 1,316 18 16.1 Marquise Walker Michigan 11 81 1,043 11 12.9 Ashley Lelie Hawaii 11 76 1,451 17 19.1 Edell Shepherd San Jose St. 11 76 1,393 13 18.3 Rodney Wright Fresno St. 12 86 1,253 10 14.6 Lee Evans Wisconsin 12 75 1,545 9 20.6 Nakoa McElrath Wash. St. 11 67 1,047 9 15.6 Jabar Gaffney Florida 10 60 1,090 12 18.2 Roy Williams Texas 11 62 753 7 12.2 Deion Branch Louisville 12 72 1,188 9 16.5 Reche Caldwell Florida 10 57 944 10 16.6

*--*

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