He is Kilgore High School athletic royalty – and he’s headed to Oklahoma State University.
Jonathan Shepherd, the youngest son of Ron and Janda Shepherd of Kilgore, made his decision months ago to commit to coach Mike Gundy and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver, also a state track champion, solidified that commitment on Wednesday, the earliest National Signing Day ever allowed by the NCAA.
Joined by family, friends, coaches and about all of the East Texas sports media, Shepherd – flanked by his parents, with trophies, helmets from both KHS and OSU in front of him, as well as his number 15 Kilgore jersey – signed his letter of intent to continue his education and his football career at OSU.
Shepherd, who had various offers from programs across the country, was asked by one of the media members in attendance why he selected Oklahoma State.
“The coaching staff, the environment… Going up there just had a good feeling to it,” said the KHS senior, who plans to stay and graduate regularly in May and run track this spring for the Bulldogs. “I liked the positive feeling. It pretty much feels like home.”
The decision to sign on the first day possible was done, Shepherd said, because he had already committed to the Cowboys anyway, and wanted to affirm it.
“I’m pretty solid in my commitment,” he said. “My dad always taught me that once you make a commitment at something, you never go back. You stick to it, and that’s your word, so it’s pretty much like a promise.”
Shepherd said he made three trips to Stillwater as a part of the recruiting process, and that he is aware of Oklahoma State’s history – especially recent history – of turning out phenomenal wide receivers, like Dallas Cowboys superstar Dez Bryant, and he thinks he’ll be able to make the adjustment from high school to college without a hang-up.
Shepherd said he’ll do his best at whatever he’s asked to do.
“Routes-wise, making sure they’re crisp and more clean, getting separation out of breaks,” he said. “…Really, just doing what they ask of me. If they ask me to run a certain route, then I’ll run that, and run it to the best of my ability, going 100 percent all of the time, like I learned here in Kilgore. Preferably, with the Lord’s help, I’ll be able to achieve what they want me to achieve, or do even greater.”
Shepherd’s soon-to-be head coach Gundy has been an advocate for an earlier National Signing Day for years, and the NCAA agreed with Gundy, finally, and established one – this year was the first.
Shepherd is part of a big haul for OSU. Among his signing day classmates: wide receiver C.J. Moore, from Tulsa, Okla.; quarterback Spencer Sanders, from Denton Ryan; tight end Jake Ross, from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (and a annual Kilgore College opponent); and offensive guard Bryce Bray, from Bixby, Okla.
Jonathan was listed as a three-star prospect on recruiting services like rivals.com, 24/7.com and scout.com. In a sign of the times, shortly after signing, the youngest Shepherd posted photos from the signing with family on Twitter.
Gundy, Shepherd’s soon-to-be head coach, is known for his hairstyle, a rather-lengthy mullet, and for his sense of humor – but he’s also been very good as head coach of the Big 12 Conference’s OSU Cowboys, the program for which he played quarterback.
Gundy is 113-53 overall, to date, as the Cowboys’ head coach, including a 9-3 record so far this year. The Cowboys are getting ready to play Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28. OSU has won two of its last three bowl appearances, including last year’s rout of Colorado in the Alamo Bowl.
Gundy burst onto the scene in the national media after beating Texas Tech in 2007, the now-famous “I’m a man; I’m 40” speech.
An early-established rapport with Gundy in the recruiting process was one of the biggest factors in Shepherd’s decision to make Stillwater his new home.
“Honestly, the first time meeting him, I was nervous,” Shepherd said Wednesday. “But once you get to know them, they’re really down-to-earth people. They’re real funny, country people. It’s easy to talk to them, like talking to my parents, or my siblings. It’s like they’re part of the family.”
Shep was injured and didn’t get to play in what turned out to be the Bulldogs’ final game, the third-round playoff game against Henderson at Pine Tree on Dec. 1. He finished with 18 catches for 405 yards, an average of 22 ½ yards per catch, and five touchdowns. He did return a few kicks – nine, to be exact, for 102 total yards (11.4 per kick, a long of 26 yards).
That leaves Kilgore football without a member of the Shepherd family for the first time in decades. That fact was not lost on Kilgore head football coach and athletic director Mike Wood, who spoke at length about Jonathan, and about the relationship between Kilgore athletics and the Shepherd family, prior to Jonathan’s signing.
“There are a lot of gold (trophies) in that trophy case that have had a Shepherd behind them,” Wood said. “…The Shepherd family has meant a lot to Kilgore over the years, and we can’t hold on to them, but we’ve enjoyed them while they’ve been here, and we certainly wish Jonathan all the best.”