Tampa Bay Buccaneer Russell Shepard Jr.

Former Cy-Ridge Ram finds success as a wide receiver in the NFL

Written by Kirsten Cornell | Photography courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cypress, TX News – If you have ever walked the halls of Cypress Ridge High School, you have heard these words of their mission statement: “We will embrace challenge and welcome it as the opportunity to make a difference; we will face a world of change and envision the possibilities for growth.” It was this commitment to success that encouraged Cy-Ridge Ram Russell Shepard Jr., a star athlete who went on to compete in the NFL. “Cy-Ridge opened the doors for a lot of guys. It was definitely a great program,” Shepard says of his alma mater. “Growing up in Cy-Fair kept me focused. I was able to give my all, especially in high school football.”

Shepard, a Cy-Ridge High School alum, is currently playing football as a wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Importance of Education
Shepard knew at an early age that football would be a lifelong passion for him. “Growing up in Texas, it has always been my dream to grow up and be in the NFL,” he laughs. “It’s surreal; my dream has come true.” Shepard loved growing up in Cy-Fair and the opportunities it afforded him, particularly being a member of the Cy-Ridge -Ram brotherhood. “One of my best memories was being considered the underdogs, and we went on to compete in the playoffs that season,” he says. Shepard adds that he still keeps in touch with many of his Ram teammates.

There is no doubt that Shepard played an influential role to those around him. A successful athlete, he was also dedicated to his academics and a well-rounded and well-liked individual. “Throughout my career I’ve strived to show that hard work pays off,” he states. “I was able to graduate early from Cy-Ridge and attend Louisiana State University. If you treat people right and apply your all to something, it will definitely pay off.” Shepard’s determination was rewarded. After graduating from Cy Ridge, he accepted the opportunity to attend LSU. “I fell in love with the culture and the atmosphere there,” he says. “It’s a great school with a fantastic program and some skilled coaches; I couldn’t have made a better choice.”

While Shepard recognizes that many young athletes share his dream of tearing up the turf wearing an NFL jersey, he urges them to understand that you are a student first and foremost. “The NFL isn’t for everyone. If you are 28 and still playing, you’ve had a great career,” he says. “You need to be able to add something else to your resume, and to yourself. I didn’t know what I liked outside of football, and I’m just now figuring that out. I absolutely love football - but there are a lot of important things in this world outside of that as well.”

CFM_F_14_Russell Shepard_140520_MM_Bucs_Russell Shepard_credit Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Shepard hopes to lead by example and encourage young athletes to succeed in more than just football

A Professional Platform
Shepard entered the NFL as a college free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles and soon began realizing his childhood dream. Through this team, he met and played with a quarterback he had followed during his high school years: Michael Vick. In September 2013, Shepard joined his current team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a wide receiver. “The NFL is a great opportunity, and it’s up to you to take full advantage of it,” says Shepard. “I call that term being a ‘pro’s pro.’ Learn how to perfect your craft.”

The biggest challenge of transitioning from playing college football to playing at the professional level Shepard says, is being responsible for yourself and your decisions. “In college, someone is still making your schedule, telling you what to do,” he explains. “In the NFL, you are your own business. You have to learn how to be responsible on and off the field.” A big believer in his faith, Shepard reads Psalm 23 and prays in the end zone before every game. “I thank God a lot for what he’s done for me,” he says. “A lot of people watch football, a lot of youngsters. The game I play gives me the platform to encourage others to do the right thing and go the right path.”

High Expectations
The level of expectation for NFL players is certainly high. “They are paying you all this money for a reason; if they tell you to catch 100 passes during practice, you need to catch 150. You need to go over and beyond,” says Shepard. “There is a stigma that we are professional athletes and highly paid so we have high expectations. Sometimes, people forget at the end of the day that we are all human, and we make mistakes.”

Shepard works hard to incorporate his family into his busy career. “The NFL organization does a great job of incorporating family and are actually very family-oriented,” he explains. “It’s our job. After work we go home to our families.” Shepard has to place an even higher priority on family obligations now, as he is engaged to Mary Anne, and the two are planning a destination wedding next summer. “Family support is critical,” he adds.

In a world of high stakes, devastating injuries, and fast lifestyles, there are often reports of professional athletes losing sight of what they stand for. Shepard makes it a priority to stay grounded. “At the end of the day, when it’s all over, all you have is your name,” he says. “Being able to hold yourself to the highest standard and hold yourself accountable is what you are left with. There is so much more to life than just being a professional football player.” CFM

KIRSTEN CORNELL is the lead editor of Cy-Fair Magazine. She thoroughly enjoyed interviewing Russell Shepard Jr. and hopes young athletes take his advice about the importance of education to heart.