Standing 6-foot-4, 295 pounds, it’s a little difficult to imagine Fort Hays State University defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd not standing out in a crowd. 

But even FHSU seventh-year coach Chris Brown jokingly admits in the early going of FHSU’s camp, he has had a little trouble picking the senior lineman out of the group. 

That’s mainly because up until this season, the Ajax, Ontario, product by way of Simon Fraser University had a more unique appearance, other than his standout frame on the field — he had long bright dyed red hair. 

“Not used to it,” Brown said Tuesday after the Tigers wrapped up Day 2 of practice. “I’m still looking for the hair. 

“I can’t figure out who he is on the field, because that hair’s gone. It’s a good look.”

For Shepherd, the change in appearance is just another sign he’s grown up through the program at FHSU, and a sign he’s ready to take the next step in his life following his senior season, whether it be a professional playing career, or joining the workforce in another avenue.

“Done a lot of growth, lot of development, lot of things,” Shepherd said. “Personal life, school life, aspirations in my future. Just career cruising.”

Shepherd used the example of his time spent at a few Kansas Highway Patrol Academy visits. He thought maybe it was time for a look of which his mother would approve. 

“Wasn’t exactly fitting the dress code,” Shepherd said with a laugh. “They were awesome up there, and I think going to my senior year, I am ready for a little bit more of a professional look. 

“I cut my hair, and my mom is happy.”

Once the senior throws his helmet on, though, and starts roughing up opposing linemen and quarterbacks, he will again become all too familiar. 

He’s ready to step up and lead a talented defensive line that graduated All-American Sie Do Jr. 

Shepherd was a Don Hansen All-American Honorable Mention selection last season and was second-team in the MIAA. He had 61 tackles and ranked second on the team in tackles for loss with 9.5. Two seasons ago, he was named the top defensive player in the Mineral Water Bowl with a season-best 14 tackles and 1.5 for loss. Last year, he drew many double and even triple teams. 

“I’m not saying there will be any more or any less of that,” Shepherd said of the possibility of him being the focal point of opposing lines. “But that’s what we train for.”

FHSU a year ago ranked third in the MIAA in sacks, due in part to Doe Jr.’s 15. The fact Shepherd could be in line to see more doubles and triples could open the door for any of the other linemen to fill that void. 

“We’re going to strive to be further than that,” Shepherd said of last season. “We’re looking forward to some of those young guys coming up.”

Shepherd has been among a front line working with the No. 1’s this week that consists of junior Wyatt Parker, senior Luke Wright and Sheldon Schmidt, a La Crosse native. 

“Still going to be very good,” Brown said of the D-Line, pointing out the depth at all four positions. 

“Those guys have done a great job of getting ready, and hopefully can spell some of those (starters) and make some plays for us.”

Shepherd pointed out guys that could be with the No. 1’s, but several others on defense have slipped into those roles due mostly to the work they put in this summer. 

“The ones that are serious, they came in the summer,” Shepherd said. “We know their face if we don’t know their names. 

“It’s just a matter of time and you’ll know them for good things or you’ll know them for bad things, but we’ll get to know them.”

No doubt, one name opposing teams will have to know, though, once the season begins Aug. 31 is Nathan Shepherd — whether he has red hair or not.