Bison players help Shepherd cope with the loss of his father
FARGO — Louis Shepherd was only 44 years old when he passed away last month in a Kansas City medical center. The celebration of life service was held on July 28 in Blue Springs, Mo., and among those on hand were several North Dakota State football players.
They drove the nine hours to help their teammate, senior receiver Darrius Shepherd, cope with the loss.
"It was really a special moment when I found out all of those guys were coming down," Shepherd said.
It's no surprise that they did. You see it in a lot of college football teams — players supporting each other in times of need — and it's no different with the Bison. They were there four years ago when senior offensive lineman Luke Bacon lost his sister. They were there for former Bison running back Chase Morlock when his father went through and ultimately died after a battle with cancer.
It was no different with Shepherd's father, who also fought a long battle with cancer.
It was a while ago when Morlock and Shepherd talked over dinner about their fathers and the difficulties of it all.
"When he found out it wasn't looking too hot, I told him that when you're home, spend as much quality time with your family as you can," Morlock said. "It's not all about the quantity of time because he had to be up here training. Take every second you possibly can get and don't be afraid to have those tough conversations."
They are conversations that Morlock said he wished he had more of with his late father, Paul Morlock. He died in 2016 during Chase's senior season.
Having the Bison players at the funeral, Darrius Shepherd said, "showed my friends and family back home just how important you guys are to me and how you care about us."
Morlock said the Shepherd family was exceptionally giving to the NDSU players, to the point that they insisted everybody stay at their house.
"We were down there for him and they were like, 'How can we help you guys?'" Morlock said. "They're just givers."
Darrius said he'll miss having those football conversations with his father, who played football at the University of Missouri. He wears a bracelet with his father's initials on it with plans to get a tattoo.
"I'm trying to keep his memory alive," Darrius said. "My dad was my rock. My guy. He played football and we always talked football. I'm really going to miss him, but the lessons I learned from him I'm going to continue to use to be a better man and help others around me."
Shepherd led the Bison in receptions last year with 41, averaging 13.6 yards per catch. His touchdown total was down a season ago, catching one, after hauling in five TDs in each of his first two seasons. That one touchdown catch last season, however, came in the Division I FCS national championship game against James Madison.
Practice started last week and getting back to work was probably the best thing, Shepherd said.
"It's a good getaway during the days and to put my mind on something else," he said. "It's fun to be around the guys and everybody is excited for the new season."