Not every player has a straight and narrow path to the NFL. Just ask Jets defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd.
Over the weekend, Shepherdâs NFL dreams came true when New York selected him in the third round of the 2018 draft. Four years ago, though, Shepherdâs path strayed about as far away from a football field as one can get.
A native of Ajax, Ontario, Shepherd attended Simon Fraser University in British Columbia for two years before he could no longer afford tuition. Shepherd spent the next two years working numerous jobs in order to save up enough money to return to school and the football field.
Whether it was working in construction, at a plant nursery or at a printing factory, Shepherd did whatever it took to come up with enough cash to go back to school. He wondered if he would ever be able to find a way back onto the gridiron.
âHonestly, it brought me to the point where I had to look myself in the mirror and decide how much football meant to me,â Shepherd told reporters, according to the New York Post. âIt was just one of those loves that I couldnât get over. It became a matter of just do whatever you have to do to make your dreams come true.â
In 2015, Shepherd left Canada and wound up at Fort Hays State in the middle of Kansas. It was there that Shepherd became an NFL prospect and performed well enough in his two seasons at the school to earn an invite to the Senior Bowl.
According to Todd Bowles, Shepherd projects as a 3-4 defensive end. Bowles expects Shepherd to play a part in New Yorkâs defensive line rotation as a rookie and could see time filling the hole vacated by Muhammad Wilkerson.
Wilkerson would still be in New York if it werenât for his rebellious attitude and habitual tardiness. A Linden, New Jersey native, Wilkerson was not always that way. When the Jets selected him out of Temple in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they were getting a player who was hungry to make a name for himself.
Wilkerson played with that kind of drive and competitiveness up until 2016, which is when he earned a hefty contract extension from the Jets. Once Wilkerson got his money, that drive disappeared and the player who was once heralded for his high motor became disinterested and a problem in the locker room.
Itâs no surprise that general manager Mike Maccagnan coveted a player with drive and determination to take over the spot Wilkerson once held. Maccagnan has made a concerted effort to bring in high-character guys throughout New Yorkâs rebuilding process and Shepherd fits the mold of what Maccagnan is looking for.
Based on his backstory, itâs easy to imagineShepherdâs work ethic is top-notch. It takes some serious determination to do what he did, giving up school and entering the workforce just to find a way back to the sport one day.
Credit Maccagnan for finding a player who not only flew under the radar from a talent perspective, but from a character standpoint, as well. Shepherdâs drive should take him a long way in the NFL and he deserves every ounce of success that is bound to come his way.