Nathan Shepherd is likely to become the highest-profile Fort Hays State University football product in program history, but FHSU coach Chris Brown said the newfound fame hasn't changed Shepherd in the slightest.
Brown says the Tigers' star defensive tackle remains as humble as ever as he prepares to be the first FHSU player taken in the NFL Draft in 31 years.
"The thing about Nathan, with all the attention and publicity that's around him right now, a lot of guys would change," Brown said. "He hasn't changed one bit who he is. He's just a good person and he's a great football player as well. To see these things happen for him, it's well deserved. He's worked his tail off to get to this point."
After earning All-America and MIAA defensive player of the year honors while helping lead Fort Hays to an 11-1 record and a conference championship last season, Shepherd's stock has soared leading into the draft.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound native of Ontario, Canada is projected to be a Day 2 pick on Friday in the draft in Arlington, Texas. Some NFL analysts have Shepherd slated to be a late second-round pick.
“I like him, man,” NFL Draft expert Mike Mayock told media members during a conference call last week. “He’s raw as can be, but I’m telling you, I think the league is really intrigued by him and thinks he has a lot of upside.
“He’s kind of a rare guy from a height, weight, speed perspective. I think, a worst-case scenario, a second-round talent but he might drop to the third round just because it might take a little while to get something out of him because he’s so raw.”
Shepherd started his career at Simon Fraser University in Canada before leaving the school because of "financial hardships." He worked several jobs to save money and then found a home at Fort Hays for the 2016 season.
"It's just crazy to think how many years it took to get me where I am," Shepherd said in an interview with the NFL Network earlier this month.
Shepherd was a three-time All-MIAA selection, recording 168 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a Tiger. He was an All-America first-team pick by three organizations in his senior year — the American Football Coaches Association, D2Football.com and the Don Hansen Football Committee.
Shepherd jumped on the radar for several teams after a breakout performance in the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
"The Senior Bowl was such a blessing, for real," Shepherd told the NFL Network. "I knew in my heart I could compete against the best. It was just great to put it on tape and really get the recognition from my peers and other coaches so they could believe in me and give me the opportunity. At the end of the day, that's all I needed. That's what I needed at Fort Hays to accomplish what I did.
"At the next level, all I'm going to need is an opportunity so I can make the most of it."
Shepherd looks to become the third player in FHSU history selected in the NFL Draft. The last Tiger chosen in the NFL Draft was wide receiver Frankie Neal in 1987. The Green Bay Packers picked Neal with the 71st pick of that draft in the third round.
The only other Tiger selected in the draft was running back Steve Crosby in 1974 by the New York Giants.
Brown said Shepherd was recently in Hays before heading back to Canada to watch the draft with his family.
"I'm so proud of him and I hope it lasts a long time for him," Brown said.