Nathan Shepherd learned early in his professional career that there’s no way to be completely prepared for every obstacle that comes up in the NFL.
The former Fort Hays State star and current New York Jets defensive lineman said the key is being able to adjust on the fly.
“I guess I learned you’ve got to expect the unexpected when it comes to the NFL,” Shepherd said Wednesday after signing autographs for Tiger fans at Smoky Hill Country Club. “It’s one of those things where there’s new challenges around the corner in the NFL, and in every profession, really.
“One thing I knew going in, it’s not about being ready for everything that’s being thrown at you, it’s about how you can adapt and meet the challenges head on.”
Shepherd's second NFL season will bring more changes as the Jets welcome in a new coaching staff, led by head coach Adam Gase. The defensive staff will be headed up by fiery D-coordinator Gregg Williams, who acted as interim head coach of the Cleveland Browns last season.
“He’s a firecracker, and I mean that in a good way,” Shepherd said of Williams. “That kind of mentality bleeds through the defense; you see it in all the defensive coaches. We’re just excited to have that fire brewing within ourselves.”
Shepherd, listed at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, played in all 16 games in his rookie year and made five starts, logging 15 tackles.
“One thing I’m looking forward to this year is the attack-style defense that we’re having under Gregg’s defense — how violent, how relentless we can be, and certain freedoms he gives us and how he trusts us to do certain things differently," Shepherd said. “It reminds me a lot of the disruption I was asked to do when I was at Fort Hays and what I’m good at.”
Off the field, the Ontario native has adjusted to life in the New Jersey/New York area after three years in Hays.
“It definitely was different,” Shepherd said. “Living in Hays for three years — more cows than people, definitely not a lot of trees. I remember when I got here, I was like, 'Why is everything so yellow?' It’s either the dust or the limestone, or both.
“You go to New Jersey — they call it the Garden State — rains a lot, trees everywhere. Different scenery. Both (Hays and New Jersey) are great places to live. Different, but great places to live.”
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, then found a home at Fort Hays for the 2016 season. He went on to become 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, helping the Tigers go undefeated in the regular season.
Shepherd said he will continue to keep close tabs on FHSU football, which will be going for its third straight MIAA title this fall.
“I came in for three years and I laid down the bricks that I could,” Shepherd said. “It brings me a lot of joy to see other players, coaches doing well, the town doing well and putting down their Tiger football bricks. Let’s see what we can build.”