By Steve Diffey
Sports Information Director
Holmes Community College.
Until this season, the last time Holmes Community College freshman cornerback Tee Shepard played in a high school football game was his junior season back in 2010.
After a whirlwind of academic issues, such as having to sit out his senior season at high school because of transfer rules or being deemed ineligible by the NCAA due to correspondence courses taken to graduate from high school while at the University of Notre Dame, the five-star cornerback by Rivals in 2012 landed in Goodman at Holmes to begin his freshman campaign this January. He was rated the fourth best cornerback and 76th best player overall in 2012.
Shepard played as a junior at Fresno (Calif.) Central East and then transferred back to Fresno Washington Union, where he was ruled ineligible to play after returning to Washington Union. He then went to Notre Dame after thinking he had completed all requirements for high school. He enrolled at Notre Dame in early 2012 and practiced with the team in the spring but never played a game. He was forced to sit out to reclaim his eligibility status. Shepard then came to Holmes in January 2013 after the long hiatus.
"I was feeling weak, but as each day goes by, I'm getting back to the old Tee Shepard like I used to be," Shepard said of spring, summer and fall practices at Holmes. "I had a hard time getting into the playbook. It's so different than anything else I've done in my life."
He said being at Notre Dame has made him a guy to look up to at Holmes. "A lot of people like being around me because I've experienced a Div. I school," Shepard said. "Everybody looks up to me. They look at me like that kind of player. I have to work hard every day because I know they are looking up to me."
When asked about competition at practice and in the first two games of the season, Shepard said the MACJC has fine receivers in the league. "We've got some Div. I receivers," he said. "They probably had some academic issues just like I did. The competition level is there." Shepard just came off a game with Dhaquille Williams, who is an All-American receiver from Gulf Coast. Shepard finished with 9 tackles with one fumble recovery with a return of 11 yards against Gulf Coast and has 11 tackles on the season.
Of his defensive unit at Holmes, Shepard said, "They have a lot of great potential. They are fast and everybody's hitting. Our defense is going to win a lot of games. All we have to do is come together and trust each other with assignments. Once we get the trust in, we are going to be dominating and the defense is going to be unbelievable."
One thing Bulldog fans and others in the MACJC or NJCAA may not know is Shepard has worn hearing aids since elementary school, but you would not know by his attitude or playing ability.
"I've had hearing issues since the second or third grade or have worn hearing aids since that time," Shepard said. "I've always had to sit in front of the class."
Shepard said during high school and at the college level he's been provided note takers and extra time with the instructors when necessary. "If I didn't understand something, I would go to the teachers and tell them I didn't understand and ask them to go over it for me," he said. "That's the reason I've been successful in the classroom," he said of the extra attention given to him.
Of his disability, Shepard said, "I can hear a little something," he explained. "You can probably talk to me, but I may ask you to repeat some things to make sure I heard you correctly. It's been an issue."
On the football field, the coaches use hand signals to call in the plays but if no hand signals are used, then he may not get the right call but he feels like everyone is catching on to what he needs to be successful on the field. "Don't get me wrong, people think I am playing with them (when it comes to his hearing ability)," he said. "A lot of times people think I am using that as an excuse. It makes me angry. They think I'm playing, but I'm really being serious. They are going to get used to it."
Shepard said it's very important for young people with hearing disabilities to not get down because of it but strive to work hard and let their actions speak for them on the field or court or whatever sport they are playing.
"For the young guys that do have the hearing disability just don't let anybody talk down to you," Shepard said. "People are always going to find a way to bully you, because when I was growing up, I was being bullied all my life. They would say, 'What's in your ears?'
"They liked to make jokes," he added. "I just avoided them and couldn't worry about them. I wear my hearing aids like they are my earrings, like my jewelry. I look good in my hearing aids (he said with a big smile)."
Shepard has been clocked a low 4.4 in the 40 yard dash and has a 36-inch vertical leap so having these abilities has helped him in athletics.
"Me with the hearing situation I've got to work three times as hard," Shepard said. "I've got to outwork everybody. Even if I don't get the call on defense, I still use my athleticism to cover a guy even though I didn't get the call. Coaches are like, 'that's a good job but that's not the proper call I called'. All I can say is, no coach I didn't get the call. I'm being successful so I'm not complaining."