Sept. 17, 2009
The siren song of his native Arkansas continues to call Rice fifth-year senior quarterback John Thomas Shepherd, but the tune isn't so alluring that Shepherd can't fully concentrate on the task of playing for the Owls.
After earning his second career start in the Owls' season opener at UAB, Shepherd will get the nod again against Oklahoma State. He spend three seasons serving as the backup to Chase Clement, so his singular focus on maintaining a position of prominence within the offense can be understood even while friends and family await a decision on his future.
"I was talking to some people from back home the other day and they were asking me what I'm doing after the season," Shepherd said. "I told them I'm focused on the season right now. I've got six hours to graduate. I'm thinking more once I finish football, then I will decide where my next step would be."
That post-graduate decision is filled with intrigue. Shepherd is the son of the Honorable Bobby E. Shepherd, a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Bobby Shepherd was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate later that year. He has been hearing cases for three years.
Matthew Shepherd, John Thomas' older brother, is an El Dorado attorney who recently launched a bid to run for the Arkansas House of Representatives from District 6. Given his love for The Natural State and his family's considerable political clout, Shepherd, a political science major, is contemplating a career in politics once he earns his degree.
But football and politics aren't Shepherd's only passions. Shepherd was recruited and signed by former Rice coach Ken Hatfield, a staunch advocate for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Shepherd maintains admiration for the retired Hatfield, who is also an Arkansas native, and that respect includes powerful and unwavering religious convictions.
"I am definitely a Christian, and that's something that I take very serious," Shepherd said. "That's how I live my life.
"FCA is something that, my first couple of years here, I was really involved in. (Former Owls quarterback) Drew Mehringer and I started a bible study with a few guys on the team. It's really very important to me."
The ability to communicate with teammates across a variety of spectrums has earned Shepherd a position as a team leader despite his relative lack of game experience. Through hard work and perseverance Shepherd has remade himself, morphing from an option quarterback at El Dorado High School to a signal caller adept at operating the spread.
With 10 games remaining in his career, Shepherd intends to devote himself fully to leading the Owls back to the postseason. When his work on the field is done, he will lend his time to fulfilling his desires of giving back to his beloved home state and showcasing the impact of his faith.
"I came in pretty green with my views on the world," Shepherd said. "I hadn't seen a lot of the world, and coming down here and meeting all different types of people and seeing all different types of things was kind of tough on me in some ways. Seeing things I'd never seen before tested me, and I was just trying to find my way.
"FCA kept me grounded and really kept me focused on what was the most important thing in my life. To me that's having a relationship with Jesus."
With selfless sacrifice on the field and a relentless devotion to others off of it, Shepherd is positioned to become one of Tomorrow's Leaders.