FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) -- The Bison haven’t even wrapped the regular season yet and senior receiver Darrius Shepherd is already having his best season yet.
“I just want to go out on top," Shepherd said. "This year I just try to really focus on playing my best game. But I think the big thing is just going after wins. The stats and everything don’t matter as long as we’re winning games. So I just try to focus and prepare to play my best.”
Shepherd went through some major changes on and off the field since last season.
Jason Ray was hired as the new receivers coach and had an immediate impact on Shepherd.
“I do have a different philosophy and some things that I’ll teach and coach," Ray said of his impact on Shepherd's play. "He’s hungry and he’s willing and wanting to learn new things.”
“It’s kind of been a refresh," Shepherd said of his new coach. "Coach Ray played receiver at Mizzou so he’s had a lot of good experience playing the position and then coaching afterwards at Oklahoma State and other various locations. Just hearing his experience and learning new techniques and tools to excel my game has been really cool and it’s been really helpful.”
Shepherd has already surpassed his previous season’s numbers in most categories and he’s on course to leave his mark in the Bison record books.
But none of that really matters to him.
He’s been playing for someone more than himself and even greater than his Bison brother’s this year. This summer his life changed forever when his father lost a long fight with cancer.
“It’s given me motivation to go out and play for him every time I step on the field, just trying to honor him. It’s been really cool to have that drive to play," Shepherd said. "Football has been a big get away for me.”
“I really honestly believe that it’s something he finds strength in," Ray explained. "To truly say, 'I’m going to go out and take advantage of every single day that I have.' He really works. And when I see him work that really flashes in my head. He’s practicing and working for a purpose”
Shepherd says he and his father talked football nearly every day. And that constant comfort and conversation is one of the things he misses most.
“Yea I’ve definitely missed that daily being able to call him on the phone and being able to talk about football and this and that," Shepherd recalled. "But just talking to guys on the team and having Coach Ray here this year and being able to talk to him about whatever. Anything. He’s been a really great guy for me to talk to.”
It’s a bond that was built out of mutual respect, when a new coach needed a senior leader and a young man needed a mentor and friend.
It’s helped spark a stand out season for Darrius Shepherd and will leave a forever mark on this program.
Both in the record books and the mentality of this receiving corps.