He admits he isn’t the same person that he was when he graduated from Lafayette Christian last spring.
Eli Shepherd has gone from a hometown hero to somebody that has to prove himself all over again, one state over. Shepherd is a full-time college student at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
The 18 year old from LaGrange has been enrolled at UTC since August. Shepherd is meeting new challenges on a daily basis, both academically and on the football field. Shepherd is a redshirt freshman linebacker for the UTC Mocs.
“It was a good decision going there. The people care about you at Chattanooga. You still have to be physically tough on the field and mentally tough in the class room. You have to study and listen. You have to get your academics, and you can’t play if you don’t,” said Shepherd.
It’s a full day at UTC for the 6-foot, 230-pound Shepherd.
“We have a 5 a.m. workout (in the weight room). There is a lot of yelling and coaches getting in your face. We lift a lot of weights. And there is a lot of running. We run everywhere we go, even if it is to just get some water. College football will test your character,” said Shepherd.
It is all for the improvement of the UTC football program. The Mocs did go 9-4 this season, and they catapulted into the second round of the FCS national playoffs.
“We have a good program. We have a winning mentality. We were ranked No. 3 when the season started. We want to keep the winning tradition going,” said Shepherd.
He has yet to make a tackle in a college game, however. As a redshirt player last fall, Shepherd got his on-the-job training on the practice field. He did make a positive impression, climbing to No. 3 on the depth chart at linebacker.
“I looked at film, and I studied the playbook. It is thick,” said Shepherd.
He also earned the respect of his elder teammates at UTC last fall. Shepherd took some licks, and he got some payback. He soaked up the college game, one workout at a time.
That does take time. Shepherd is still adjusting to the superior speed of the college game.
“There is hitting every moment. You have to believe in yourself. College football is like a car crash. College football is a life-changing experience. Chattanooga has a lot of weights and machines to help you get bigger and faster,” said Shepherd.
Next year he wants to do more than just get on the field. Shepherd wants to make an impact with the 2017 Mocs.
“I want to improve and make some plays. I want to compete. I want to take things more serious. I’m striving to be an All-American (at UTC). It’s a mindset thing. You have to work hard. We could win a lot of ball games. We could win the conference,” Shepherd said.
Tennessee-Chattanooga belongs to the Southern Conference. Who knows? Shepherd, who played 8-man football at Lafayette Christian, just might be an All-Southern Conference player in the very near future at UTC.
Maybe next year.
“I know I can play,” said Shepherd.
His former high school coach, Nate Shaw, thinks he has what it takes to make a difference on the collegiate gridiron. Shepherd is no borderline talent.
“Eli has the perfect linebacker size and shape. He has all the tools. I do think he could start. Eli is big enough, strong enough and fast enough,” said Shaw, the head football coach at Lafayette Christian.
Stanley Shepherd also has a high opinion of No. 48 for the UTC Mocs. Shepherd is the father of the middle linebacker from Chattanooga.
“I believe in my heart he is going to get a lot of playing time (next season). Eli works hard every day, and he does what the coaches ask him to do,” said Stanley Shepherd.
His son is proud to call himself a college football player at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Chris Fernsler Sports Writer