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Sheppard one of the Razorback leaders

BY ANDRES FOCIL
Sheppard one of the Razorback leaders

Change is something the Arkansas football team will have to deal with all season. With a new coaching staff, new offense and new defense, Razorback players have to make many adjustments. Junior defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard is one of five team captains selected by the coaches and players to lead the Hogs this season. Although a new role for Sheppard, he has accepted the responsibility and found it rewarding.

“It’s not really a strain or anything,” Sheppard said. “It’s something I want as the type of person I am. I want to be able to help the young guys any way that I can.”

Sheppard’s type of laid-back leadership with his fellow players is a little different than others.

“I’m not really the ‘hoorah’ type of guy, but I definitely consider myself a leader,” Sheppard explained. “Even if it’s just coming out here and making a joke at a hard practice, they all look up to you. You have to be an example every day.”

As a true freshman in 2006, Sheppard immediately solidified his position as a contributor for the Razorback defense and was given the second spot on the defensive end depth chart behind Antwain Robinson. He appeared in all 14 games for the Hogs that season, even getting a start against Southeast Missouri State when Robinson was out with an injury.

During his sophomore season, Sheppard started 12 games, missing the LSU contest with an ankle injury. He led Arkansas with 16 quarterback hurries and shared the team lead in tackles for loss with 10.5. In his third career start, he was named Hogwired.com Defensive Player of the Week after compiling six tackles, two-and-a-half tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble that led to an Arkansas score against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Even though Sheppard already had two successful seasons as a defensive end under his belt and had only seen minimal action at defensive tackle, he was asked by the coaching staff to move to the inside of the line and play defensive tackle this season. This was another change the ever-positive Sheppard welcomed.

“I’m starting to like it a lot,” Sheppard said. “From day one when I was told I had to move inside, I liked it then, but I’m starting to like it even more now.”

Sheppard said that there is certainly a difference in his responsibility, but he feels like he is learning to be a more complete player because of it.

“I’m used to playing on the outside just going against offensive tackles, now I’m inside going against two linemen every time on a double team. It’s different and you have to play smarter and learn more about using your hands.”

Sheppard, a Bainbridge, Ga., native, chose to play football at Arkansas over other schools such as South Carolina, South Florida, Southern Mississippi and Alabama-Birmingham. Sheppard said he had not really considered Arkansas until he visited the campus with then-head coach Houston Nutt.

“I had seen them play on TV,” he said. “I always knew about Arkansas, but I never thought I’d come here. I came up here and I learned a lot about the program from back in the day with Frank Broyles, the Cotton Bowl and the 1964 national championship.”

Sheppard said that after his visit to Fayetteville, it was an easy decision to become a Razorback.

“The people up here are five-star,” he said. “Just the type of people, the atmosphere, the community; everybody loves Razorback football. It was a no-brainer. I mean, I liked Coach Nutt, but I liked everything else around here. And no change with Coach Petrino, I like him just as much. [There are] great coaches and great people here.”

Playing in the Southeastern Conference was also a selling point for Sheppard. He thrives on the idea of competing on the nation’s biggest college football stage.

“That’s why I came here, [because] I wanted to play against the best competition,” Sheppard explained. “I could have easily gone to a [weaker] conference school. No knock to them, but I wanted to play against the best and I wanted to be in the best conference. That’s the opportunity I had with Arkansas and South Carolina and I chose [to be] here.”

As an SEC athlete, Sheppard has said he realizes there is no comparison for the level of competition he has to face week in and week out.

“You’re facing great talent every week, from the weakest team in the SEC to the strongest,” he said. “You’re going to face the best athletes in the country. I know sometimes people get tired of hearing that, but it’s the truth. It’s the best conference, no doubt about it.”

Sheppard said it was an eye-opening experience after he earned his first career Razorback statistic in SEC play.

“My first tackle came in an SEC game,” Sheppard said. “I remember getting on the bus after the game just feeling like this is really what it’s all about. I know I’ve got a long way to go, but that was my welcome to the SEC moment; getting my first tackle against Vanderbilt in Nashville.”

As for this season, Sheppard has said that he did not set lofty expectations or personal goals. It’s all about doing what he can for the team.

“I don’t make any award goals,” he said. “I just try to be the best player I can be and just become a better defensive lineman. I want to look at my first game this season and my last game and notice a big improvement. I want to be a better leader for the players out here and just bring it hard every day.”

So far, Sheppard is making big strides toward these goals. Defensive coordinator Willie Robinson has mentioned Sheppard by name this season when he said “the defensive front [has] made big improvements.”

When it comes to Sheppard’s legacy as a Razorback, he remains humble.

“I want to be remembered by my teammates,” he said. “I just want to be remembered by the players I played with [and] the coaches that coached me. If they remember me in a positive way, then I’m good. I just want to be remembered by them.”



Sports Category : Football