NCF Nation: JaCorey Shepherd

Unfortunately it's the time of year when off-the-field missteps litter the headlines as college football players remind us they aren't much different than many other college students outside of their athletic endeavors. And while occasional misdeeds are getting the headlines other college football players are going out of their way to make a positive impact.

With that in mind, it's never a bad time to look at guys who impact their football team on the field yet strive to have a positive impact on their worlds off the field as well. Here are five Big 12 players to root for this fall, regardless of your normal allegiances:

Deep snapper Nate Boyer, Texas

If you aren't cheering for Boyer to excel, something is wrong with you, die-hard fans of the Sooners, Bears, Red Raiders included. His road to becoming the Longhorns long snapper has been well-documented, from his exploits as a Green Beret to his time in Darfur. Boyer has been a solid special teams' contributor at UT during the past two seasons. The recipient of the 2012 Disney Spirit Award, which is given annually to college football's most inspirational figure, Boyer is entering his final season at UT.

Quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor

Petty isn't just exceptional on the field. He's a guy whose impacts lives off the field as well. The reigning Big 12 offensive player of the year is active in Big Brothers, Big Sisters and FCA. He also has spent time in Kenya on a mission trip with fellow Baylor athletes in 2011 and was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year in 2013. On the field, Petty is a guy who knows how to lead, shoulders the blame during tough times, brings a positive attitude to the Bears' football squad and elite production behind center. Petty's exploits during his time in Waco, Texas are probably coming to an NCAA student-athlete commercial near you at some point in the future.

 

Defensive end Ryan Mueller, Kansas State One of the Big 12's top sack masters, Mueller befriended Kaiden Schroeder, a nine-year-old boy who suffers from Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Their relationship lead to one of the Big 12's most memorable moments in the spring when Schroeder scored a touchdown in the Wildcats' spring game. Mueller, who had 11.5 sacks in 2013, was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year and has been named as one of KSU's captains for the 2014 season.

Cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas Another guy who is active with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Shepherd also volunteers at local elementary schools. He won KU's Galen Fiss Award, which is given for exemplary service to the community and campus. On the field, he's a impact cornerback and kick returner for the Jayhawks leading KU with 15 passes defended in 2013. He was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year.

 

Quarterback Trevor Knight, Oklahoma

Knight is just starting to approach his potential on the field but he's already made a mark off it. The Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP has gone to Haiti twice as a member of OU's “Sooners4Haiti” contingent and is active in FCA, often appearing as a public speaker when his schedule allows. On the field, he's developing as a leader and playmaker and could rise to battle Petty for All-Big 12 honors with consistent performances in 2014.

 

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 2

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
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Here's what I'm watching in this week's slate of games:

1. Oklahoma State's secondary. Starting safety Johnny Thomas is ineligible for the entire season, so it's up to senior Markelle Martin to lead a very young group of cornerbacks and promising safety Daytawion Lowe, to try to fill the void left by Thomas. They're going up against a difficult passing offense in Arizona and a fantastic receiver in Juron Criner. Criner reportedly may miss tonight's game, but the secondary still better learn fast.

2. Texas' running backs. Foswhitt Whittaker is the starter, but Malcolm Brown got hot in the second half and took over, leading the team in yardage and carries. Joe Bergeron may be a factor, too, but how does this situation look on and after Saturday's game against BYU?

3. Missouri's offensive line. Center Travis Ruth isn't back yet, and senior left tackle and captain Elvis Fisher is out for the season. They'll face a tough test at Arizona State, highlighted by linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who had three sacks in the Sun Devils' season opener.

4. Justin Blackmon. By his standards, he actually had kind of a quiet night (8 receptions, 144 yards) while his offense racked up 60 points in its season opener. He'll need another big game in a matchup with Arizona that looks like it will be extremely high scoring. Watch for him to get as many as 20 targets in Oklahoma State's passing game, which tore up the Wildcats in the Alamo Bowl.

5. Iowa State's linebackers. Marcus Coker looked fantastic against Missouri in his debut in last year's Insight Bowl. In Iowa's opener? Not so much. Iowa State struggled to stop the run last year, but Jake Knott and A.J. Klein will need to slow Coker down if Iowa State is going to take home the Cy-Hawk trophy.

6. Kansas' receivers. Daymond Patterson may not play against Northern Illinois, but somebody's got to step up. True freshman JaCorey Shepherd caught three passes for 107 yards and two scores last week, but no other Kansas receiver had a catch. The Jayhawks will lean on their running game again this week, but their receivers have to be better in Week 2.

7. Second-time starters at quarterback. Missouri's James Franklin and Iowa State's Steele Jantz didn't have fantastic first starts, but both showed some promise. Jantz did it with two big drives late in the game to get the win. Franklin played well outside of one big pick that cost the Tigers seven points and a couple near interceptions. Both will have to continue their development for their teams to pull upsets this week.

8. Texas' secondary. I put them "On the Spot" this week. Of course, I put Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright on the spot last week, and he had a huge game. Jake Heaps was unimpressive against Ole Miss last week, but don't count him out this week. His potential is enormous. Texas has to slow him down or prepare for a long day in Austin.

Kansas recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
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KANSAS JAYHAWKS

The class

Signees: 27 (one junior college, three enrolled early)

Top prospects: Kansas got one of the top players in Kansas City, running back Darrian Miller, who ranks as the nation's No. 18 running back. It also got the top player in Colorado, quarterback Brock Berglund. Anthony Pierson also signed with Turner Gill as a shifty back that ranks 28th nationally at his position. Marquis Jackson and JaCorey Shepherd join the class to add a couple high-level receivers, too.

Needs met: Turner Gill wanted speed? He's getting it. Kansas' top five recruits all can move and all five are skill-position players. Berglund should have a shot to compete for the starting job, and Miller and Pierson should help James Sims at running back. Best of all, both Miller and Berglund, the Jayhawks' top two signees, enrolled early and will be ready for spring practice. Kansas clearly needed help at receiver, too, and Jackson and Shepherd will have a chance to provide it. Skill position players are the life blood of offenses in the Big 12, and Gill may have a handful of good ones in this class.

Analysis: Gill has emphasized recruiting since he stepped on campus, and we've written about it here plenty. The emphasis is paying off. This is a great, great start for a class that ranks fifth in the Big 12. Kansas is coming off a 3-9 season and really struggled to have any big playmakers offensively. If these new guys can help provide that, you'll see some rapid improvement at Kansas. Even better, Kansas had 27 signees and all but one was ranked at his position. Gill's persona translates very well to the recruiting trail, and it was a big selling point that helped him get his first BCS job at Kansas. If he can recruit this well coming off a 3-9 season, it could get a lot better fast when he gets the Jayhawks into a bowl game.

ESPN recruiting grade: B-minus

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