LSU Tigers: Russell Shepard

BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU’s head coach today, we’ll use each day this week to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at some of the wacky moments, gutsy decisions and memorable press conferences that helped define Les as the entertaining figure that he is today.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLes Miles has been known to keep things interesting on the LSU sideline.
 10. The Harlem Shake: LSU wasn’t left out of the “Harlem Shake” video craze that swept the nation last spring. In the Tigers’ version, it first appears as if they are participating in their regular “Big Cat” drill before Miles breaks into an awkward solo dance while the players “argue” behind him. Then the beat drops and mayhem ensues.

9. “It must have been the shoes:” The Legend of Les was already fully developed even before he filmed a 2011 backyard basketball video where he went from hapless to hero while playing against (and dunking on) two of his children. The secret weapon in Miles’ turnaround was a pair of purple-and-gold high tops sent by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt following an on-air conversation where he made fun of Miles’ all-white game shoes.

8. Les being Les: Unlike many of his buttoned-up counterparts, Miles has never been afraid to show off his oddball side. It’s not particularly unusual to see him answer a reporter’s phone during a press conference, clap like a weirdo or fill everyone in on the difference between Columbus Day and St. Patrick’s Day. Nor is it surprising to see him kiss a pig or rappel off the side of a 24-story building, all in the name of charity. Around Baton Rouge, that’s simply known as Les being Les.

7. Crazy wins vs. Tennessee, Florida: Another example of Les being Les is how his teams have found some wild ways to win (and occasionally lose) ballgames. Two perfect examples came in back-to-back weeks in 2010, when LSU beat Tennessee and Florida to miraculously improve to 6-0.

First, the Tigers were on the verge of a devastating home loss to Tennessee -- and it looked like that’s exactly what happened when the Volunteers thwarted LSU’s last-gasp effort to score at the goal line. However, the referees determined that on the chaotic final play, the Vols actually had 13 defenders on the field instead of the allowed limit of 11. The ensuing penalty gave LSU one final chance to score, and Stevan Ridley plowed into the end zone on that play to give LSU a 16-14 victory.

Miles caught plenty of grief over the next week about LSU’s sloppy final moments in regulation before the Tennessee penalty bailed out the Tigers. It would have been understandable if he became a bit gun shy, but timidity is not in Miles’ DNA. When the Tigers’ final drive stalled late in the Florida game, Miles sent out Josh Jasper to attempt the game-tying field goal -- or so we all thought. Instead, holder Derek Helton flipped the ball over his head to Jasper on a fake field goal, and the kicker’s 5-yard run achieved a first down that kept the drive alive.

The Tigers eventually scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Jarrett Lee to Terrence Toliver with six seconds to play. It was yet another example of how you never know what to expect when Miles is making decisions on the sideline.

6. Fourth downs vs. Florida: Miles already had an SEC West title on his résumé when his third team at LSU in 2007 became one of the most impressive college football squads of the 2000s. There are plenty of moments from that BCS championship season that helped cement Miles’ risk-taking reputation, but among the most memorable were his decisions to go for it on fourth down against Florida over and over. In all, Miles and the Jacob Hester-led Tigers went for it on fourth down five times. They achieved a first down or a touchdown all five times in knocking off the defending BCS-champion Gators 28-24 in one of the greatest games ever played at Tiger Stadium.

 5. “Give them a big kiss on the mouth:” It’s difficult to say whether Miles is better known for the wacky things he says behind a microphone or for the gutsy -- and sometimes crazy -- calls he makes on the field.

We’ve already discussed a couple of the crazy calls. Now let’s touch on one of the most memorable press conferences. Following a narrow 2012 win over Ole Miss, he launched into a profane rant that evolved into a standup comedy routine. In response to a story that characterized receiver (and former hotshot recruit) Russell Shepard’s college career as a disappointment, Miles vehemently defended the contributions his seniors (including Shepard) had made to the program.

The rant ended with Miles instructing those within earshot, “You go find them, you throw your arms around them, you give them a big kiss on the mouth … if you’re a girl,” before breaking into a wacky grin as the reporters in attendance laughed.

4. Touchdown bomb against Auburn: In yet another perfectly Les moment from the 2007 season, Miles’ Tigers were in position to kick the game-winning field goal while trailing Auburn 24-23 in the final minute.

Tommy Tuberville’s defense might have expected LSU to down the ball in the middle of the field to set up a more manageable kick, but Miles had other ideas -- and the unorthodox call caught Auburn off guard. LSU quarterback Matt Flynn dropped back and hit Demetrius Byrd with a 22-yard touchdown pass with just 1 second showing on the clock. The enormous risk had paid off, and two weeks after the amazing Florida win, the Tigers delivered some more Miles magic.

3. The Mad Hatter: Miles has been given plenty of nicknames through the years -- some more family-friendly than others -- but the one that seems to resonate most is “The Mad Hatter.” ESPN’s Rece Davis apparently gave Miles that one, in part because of the white ball caps that awkwardly sit atop his head each fall Saturday and in part because of Miles’ general craziness that we’ve already covered, even if he once told sideline reporter Holly Rowe, “Understand something, it’s the hat I wear. There’s nothing mad underneath it.”

2. Eating grass: Shortly after LSU scored the go-ahead touchdown in a 2010 win against Alabama – just before the Tigers attempted a two-point pass that would put them up 21-14 – CBS’ TV cameras caught Miles in the middle of an unusual ritual that he said dates back to adolescence. He leaned down, pinched a blade or two of grass and put it in his mouth.

Miles has made hay out of his grass-eating ways since then, even participating in an ESPN commercial that gleefully ridiculed the practice.

1. “Have a great day:” One of the most unorthodox moments from Miles’ first nine seasons at LSU came when he participated in an impromptu press conference BEFORE the 2007 SEC championship game in order to shoot down a report that he was preparing to leave to coach at his alma mater, Michigan.

Miles told those in attendance that, “I’ve got a championship game to play, and I’m excited about the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play in it. … Please ask me [about Michigan] after. I’m busy.”

His smirking line to close, “Have a great day,” was so memorable that LSU added those words to the rear door of the football team’s equipment hauler.

Multiple top 10 recruits no guarantee 

June, 21, 2013
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As Michigan looks to add to a No. 1 recruiting class Insider that already includes No. 2 Jabrill Peppers, we look back at other schools that landed multiple top 10 recruits fared in those players' tenures. While Alabama hit a home run in 2009 -- landing future first-round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Trent Richardson -- others have seen mixed results.

[+] EnlargeJoe McKnight
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJoe McKnight never quite reached the lofty expectations placed on him as the No. 1 recruit in USC's stacked 2006 class.
2006

USC Trojans
Vidal Hazelton (No. 3 recruit) Taylor Mays (8), Antwine Perez (10)
The trio signed with a USC program that was coming off back-to-back BCS title game appearances, but their reality ended up being a pair of transfers and a final game for Mays in the Emerald Bowl. Perez played sparingly as a true freshman and then transferred to Maryland. Hazelton was the leading receiver for the Trojans in his sophomore year with 50 catches but transferred to Cincinnati after his junior year. Mays stayed all four years and earned All-American status before being drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft by the 49ers. -- Garry Paskwietz

GTN recruiting mailbag: Alabama targets? 

April, 12, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- GTN writer Gary Laney took your LSU recruiting questions:

Henry (Montgomery, AL): Gary, are there any Alabama recruits catching LSU's attention? I f not may I suggest one name? Taylor Stallworth.


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BATON ROUGE, La. -- In four years playing for LSU, fans got to see Russell Shepard do a lot.

Coming out of high school in 2009 as one of the country's top dual-threat quarterbacks, he lined up in the backfield in college and ran with the ball as a running back. He'd line up outside and in the slot and catch passes (or, mostly not get thrown to) as a wide receiver. He'd return kicks.

[+] EnlargeRussell Shepard
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRussell Shepard said that while he has never had to backpedal in his career, he did a pretty OK job of it this week at LSU's pro day.
What we didn't see him do is what NFL scouts had him doing Wednesday at LSU's pro day. Shepard backpedaled, turned to catch the ball, changed directions and reacted, all drills he was doing at -- of all things -- defensive backs.

Russell Shepard, a cornerback?

Don't laugh.

"I had six teams come up and tell me they wanted to see me do DB work," he said. "I never knew I was going to do it. But I did decent today."

That made pro day an extension of Shepard's entire career, at least his college career. Few have ever questioned Shepard's athleticism -- he put that on display during physical testing, running a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, and jumping 38.5 inches in the vertical leap -- but the question has always been how to utilize it.

Shepard has played every offensive skill position at LSU -- quarterback, running back and receiver -- but never was asked to flip to the other side of the ball until Wednesday.

"I've never backpedaled," Shepard said. "For my first time, I felt I did pretty decent. A lot of the teams were impressed. I could be a DB at the next level."

The thought had hardly crossed his mind before pro day. He was a high school quarterback who would alternate in college between being primarily a running back and primarily a wide receiver, all the time getting the occasional look as a wildcat quarterback.

(Read full post)

BATON ROUGE, La. -- There's a new wrinkle to the Russell Shepard saga.

The blue-chip, dual-threat high school quarterback turned underachieving college receiver was worked out by NFL scouts Wednesday during LSU's Pro Day at, of all places, defensive back.

"Never played there in my life," Shepard said. "About six teams asked me to work out there. I thought I did pretty good. Like they told me, it's added value."

[+] EnlargeRussell Shepard
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireRussell Shepard showed his versatility at LSU's pro day, working out for several teams at defensive back.
Shepard gave NFL teams reason to look for places he might fit. He excelled during physical testing, joining a list of LSU players who had good days.

Shepard ran a 4.5 electronic 40-yard dash and also had a 38.5-inch vertical leap, results that do not suggest a player who struggled to get involved in LSU's offense in his four years and was so marginalized, he was not invited to the NFL combine.

He wasn't the only Tiger to test well. Running back Michael Ford ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and had a 39.5-inch vertical leap, both results slightly better than his combine results. Linebacker Kevin Minter ran a 4.67 40 and had a 34.5-inch vertical leap, both significant improvements over the combine.

"We were at home," Minter said. "Makes all the difference."

Here are some other notables:

  • Defensive end Barkevious Mingo did not participate in testing, but like former teammate Tyrann Mathieu got involved in position-specific drills.
  • Defensive end Lavar Edwards ran a 4.78 and hit 21 repetitions in the bench press, looking like the next LSU player who might be drafted after not starting for the Tigers.

(Read full post)

BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's only going to look like an all-comer's combine.

LSU's Pro Day on Wednesday will feature a whopping 28 participants, the result of a year where the Tigers sent 13 players to the NFL combine. Among the players will will participate is former LSU player Tyrann Mathieu.

Of the 28, 21 were members of LSU's 2012 team, while seven more participants were members of past LSU teams and are trying to catch the interest of teams as free agents.

Fans can watch the event live on ESPN3 at 1 p.m. ET.

Here are the players who are participating, according to LSU:

2012 team members: DE Chauncey Aghayere, K Drew Alleman, TE Chase Clement, DT Josh Downs, OT Josh Dworaczyk, DE Lavar Edwards, OT Chris Faulk, RB Michael Ford, DT Bennie Logan, C P.J. Lonergan, DB-KR Tyrann Mathieu, DE Barkevious Mingo, LB Kevin Minter, DE Sam Montgomery, S Eric Reid, WR Russell Shepard, CB Tharold Simon, RB Spencer Ware, P Brad Wing, DT Cleveland Davis, TE Tyler Edwards

Past Players (last year at LSU): OG Will Blackwell (2011), LB-DB Karnell Hatcher (2011), OL T-Bob Hebert (2011), QB Jordan Jefferson (2011), QB Jarrett Lee (2011), DS Alex Russian (2011), RB Charles Scott (2009).

LSU Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Lamin Barrow, Josh Williford, Tahj Jones and Craig Loston will be looked at as old, old men next year when they enter their fifth-year senior seasons at LSU.

In a program that has made an art of the three-year recruiting cycle, they are only players left from LSU's 2009 signing class that was ranked No. 1 in the country by RecruitingNation.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Rob Tringali/Getty ImagesMorris Claiborne was picked No. 6 overall in the 2012 NFL draft, one of several former LSU standouts from the 2009 recruiting class that was ranked No. 1.
That they are gone doesn't reflect poorly on a class that already has three players in the NFL and at least five who are likely to be high picks in the upcoming NFL draft. For those who stayed four years, they enjoyed three consecutive seasons of 10 victories or more, an SEC championship and a trip to the BCS championship game.

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Top LSU recruit misses 

January, 22, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Under Les Miles, LSU has been great about finding an obscure prospect and turning him into a solid college player, an award-winner and often a high NFL draft pick.

That doesn't mean the Tigers aren't immune to players who turn out to not be as good as promised.

Here are five that didn't pan out as advertised since ESPN started rating players in 2006. In all five cases the player was guilty of nothing more than not being as good as many thought he would be. All but one finished their four-year LSU career and won at least one SEC title and played for, or won, a national championship:

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Where LSU will need help: Offense 

January, 4, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- There are some unknown variables when trying to figure out where true freshmen might play a big role on a team.

Avery Johnson
Davide De Pas/ESPN.comClass of 2012 wide receiver Avery Johnson looks to re-enroll after going to prep school for a year. He could contribute to LSU as soon as next season.
Take LSU right tackle Vadal Alexander. The 2012 signee became a true freshman starter at right tackle halfway through the season, something nobody saw coming. But when left tackle Chris Faulk suffered a season-ending knee injury, it opened the door for Alexander to move into the lineup, and he took the job and ran with it after another veteran starting tackle, Alex Hurst, left the team.

Similarly, with a veteran stable of running backs returning, few saw true freshman Jeremy Hill emerging as a primary running back for LSU this year. Yet, it took only one injury -- to original starter Alfred Blue -- to get Hill the break he needed to start getting carries and eventually become the starter and the Tigers' leading rusher.

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What's next for LSU after RSJ decision? 

December, 11, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Ricky Seals-Jones making his pledge to Texas A&M Monday morning, LSU missed on a much-desired 2013 recruiting target and was perhaps left with a hole in its recruiting class after the Tigers parted ways with former commit Chuck Baker last week.

Where is LSU left at wide receiver without Seals-Jones? Let's take a look.

What's left after 2012: Almost everything.

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3 Up, 3 Down: LSU 41, Ole Miss 35 

November, 18, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Three things we liked, and didn't like, from LSU's 41-35 win over Ole Miss Saturday.

THREE UP
1. Miles' rant: After the senior night game, the usually affable Les Miles took umbrage with characterizations of his small senior class as one lacking stars and was upset with media characterizations of wide receiver Russell Shepard as "a flop."

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Identity found, Tigers look toward bowl 

November, 16, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- A few days after his LSU team beat Mississippi State 37-17, a game in which the offense scored on seven of 10 possessions, LSU coach Les Miles declared, "This is us."

The Tigers offense is clicking. The defense is its dominant self, save some issues defending two-minute offense. It's a shame there isn't an eight-team playoff in college football because if there were, Baton Rouge would be buzzing about must-win games against Ole Miss and Arkansas and how much damage the LSU could do if it got in the playoffs.

Alas, college football still lacks any kind of playoff, at least for a couple more seasons. So instead, No. 7 LSU (8-2, 4-2 in the SEC) plays its last home game Saturday against the 5-5 Rebels hoping to continue its recent offensive rebirth, thus becoming a foe that the teams in the BCS Championship Game are glad they don't have to play.

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Big 3: Tigers remain motivated

November, 7, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- At practice this week, Les Miles said he has seen a motivated LSU team following a heart-breaking loss to Alabama that all but killed the Tigers' hopes of BCS or SEC championships. The media has noticed a motivated practice schedule. Monday and Tuesday post-practice interview sessions have run close to an hour late, a sign that the Tigers are putting in a hard week's work leading up to this week's game with Mississippi State. Miles addressed that issue and others on Wednesday morning's SEC teleconference:

1. What's our motivation?: When Miles fielded the inevitable question about LSU's motivation post-Alabama, he said his team had plenty.

"Our team is, first and foremost, a very capable club," he said. "They want victory. We have a need to win and it's a weekly need."

LSU (7-2, 3-2) closes its regular season with three opponents it figures to be favorites against: Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas.

2. Get them the ball? Miles was asked about two players who have had diminished roles in the Tigers offense: wide receiver Russell Shepard and running back Kenny Hilliard.

Of Shepard, who has touched the ball just 17 times this season, Miles said "We expect to get him more balls. There are a lot of snaps he can play for us."

He simply has not been getting them. As a receiver, he is a forgotten man with six catches. Once the top-rated dual-threat quarterback and one of the top prep players in the country, Shepard's best work has come as a situational running back this season. Against Alabama, he carried twice while taking pitches as a running back. At running back, he also had a 78-yard touchdown run against Towson.

Of Hilliard, whose playing time has diminished since Jeremy Hill has emerged as a primary back, Miles said there are "reasons for his slowed improvement." He did not specify what those were, but did say Hilliard, who has not carried the ball in the last two games, should compete for more carries. Hilliard is second on the team in rushing with 420 yards on 71 carries.

3. Russell's improvement: Miles noted the play of Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell as part of the reason why the Bulldogs are off to a 7-2 start.

"He is a very capable passer," Miles said. "And they have a very nice scheme." Miles noted that wide receiver Chad Bumphis was "a very talented" option for Russell to throw to.

Russell is fifth in the SEC in passing, averaging 217 yards per game with 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

Grading LSU offense: Passing game lags 

October, 25, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU played through two-thirds of the season before finally getting a break, but the bye week has arrived. It's safe to say the offense hasn't been the juggernaut fans were hoping to see in 2012, but it's been good enough to allow the Tigers to control their own destiny with two top-11 teams coming to Death Valley during the next two weeks.

Defensive grades come Friday. For now, this is how the LSU offense grades out heading during the off week.

QUARTERBACK

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Hurst taken off LSU depth chart 

October, 17, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If LSU offensive tackle Alex Hurst is to return to LSU any time soon, you wouldn't know it from the depth chart.

Hurst no longer appears on the depth chart released Tuesday by LSU. Freshman Vadal Alexander is listed at the starter at right tackle, and sophomore Elliott Porter, also the backup center, is listed as the second-team right tackle.

Sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk, who started at left tackle last week after Hurst left the team for undisclosed personal reasons, is listed as the starter at left tackle, backed up by junior Chris Davenport.

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