NFL Legend Russell Shepard Discusses the Lessons Learned on Houston's Youth Football Fields
Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.
Russell Shepard grew up in the Houston area — where youth football is like a rite of passage.
"In Texas, we take pride in youth football — really any kind of football," Shepard said.
Shepard began playing in the Houston youth leagues when he was eight years old. He said the coaches and the teams helped prepare him to excel and cared for their players.
"The coaches we had were great," he said. "They were ex-high school coaches, who may have retired. Some were ex-NFL players whose sons played on the team. They were all dedicated to helping the kids and they cared about us.
"The teams, the coaches, the fathers, the organizations, they all took it seriously when it came to the kids playing football."
He continued playing through middle school and at Cypress Ridge High School. Shepard excelled at quarterback for Cypress Ridge, earning a scholarship to Louisiana State University. The top recruit chose LSU over Texas, USC, Florida, and Michigan.
The Tigers switched the Parade All-America quarterback to wide receiver, where he played for the majority of his four years in Baton Rouge alongside the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. He went undrafted in 2013, but signed with the Philadelphia Eagles that offseason before eventually finding a fulltime roster spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Shepard was a core special teamer for the Buccaneers. He was named special teams captain in both 2015 and 2016. He also contributed as a wide receiver, hauling in 30 passes during his four seasons on the Bucs.
He spent the 2017 season with the Carolina Panthers and then played with the New York Giants in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, Shepard snagged a 49-yard touchdown on a trick play — on a pass thrown by his former LSU teammate, Beckham.
After missing all but three games of the 2019 season with an injury, Shepard retired in September 2020.
Shepard credited his work ethic and ability to stick in the NFL to his days as a youth foorball player.
"My little league experience, my middle school experience, my high school experience — I felt that all factored into my mindset. It’s what made me competitive and gave me the edge when I got through college and into the NFL.
"I learned so much playing in those leagues. I learned the game of football, for sure. But I also learned how to be a good teammate, a player who sacrifices for the good of the team. Like I said — youth football in Texas is serious. And we treated it that way."
Photo: AP/Chris Szagola
- NFL Players and Legends
- Youth Football