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Shepherd starts anew at UIU

September 07, 2008|By Tom Ronco, Special to this Newspaper
  • IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS FILE PHOTO Former Brawley Union Highs Zay Shepherd runs during a game at Arizona Western College.
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Guess where the former all-everything Brawley Union High Wildcat football player Zay Shepherd — who fell off the local radar after graduating in 2004 — is playing on special teams and slowly breaking into the offensive backfield?

He took off to the Midwest to help the Upper Iowa University Peacocks.

“We run a spread offense and I’ve never run that so I’m still getting my feet wet,” Shepherd said. “I’m doing a lot of studying, and film is my best friend right now and I’m getting it.”

Local fans will recall that in 2004 Shepherd garnered numerous awards.

Shepherd ended that season with 2,245 yards rushing and four five-touchdown games as Brawley finished the season 12-1, losing in the CIF-San Diego Section finals to Valley Center, 39-36.

Shepherd was named the Imperial Valley Press football team’s player of the year. He amassed 69 career touchdowns, good for second in the CIF-SDS record book and a total that any local players will be hard pressed to eclipse.

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Other awards Shepherd earned were being named the Imperial Valley League player of the year, All-CIF-SDS first team on offense by the Breitbard Athletic Foundation and the 2004 California Medium Schools player of the year by CalHiSports, which also named him to the all-division’s second team and medium schools (Division III) first team all-state.

After graduation, Shepherd spent the 2005 season in Yuma playing for Arizona Western College before transferring to San Diego Mesa.

“At AWC I played and I got to start at the end of the season, but it wasn’t for me and I wasn’t happy there,” Shepherd said. “So I transferred to Mesa and sat out my first year there but I was practicing and learning the system and training.”

In 2007, Shepherd succeeded his Wildcat teammate Derick Barkum, currently playing at Arizona, as the Olympians’ special teams star.

“I replaced Derick, who’s my good friend, and I was returning kicks and I had a pretty good year overall with around 1,100 multipurpose yards,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd also made an impression on Mesa defensive tackle Scott Fader.

“He’s legit. He’s a player, and he had accepted a scholarship to UIU,” Shepherd said. “I was looking around for a school and he called and told me they needed a running back and I had faith in him so I called.”

Shepherd found that the Peacock coaches were interested.

“They told me I’d have to compete for a job and that’s what I’m doing,” said Shepherd, who has seen limited action in the Peacocks’ first two games.

Shepherd, a junior, is enjoying life at UIU, which has about 6,000 students and is located in the small college town of Fayette, Iowa.

“When we have home games the stands get packed because they are small and I love the field because it looks like carpet but it’s grass and it’s short so I can use my speed.” Shepherd said. “This town is definitely smaller than Brawley but I like it and the weather’s cooler. I can’t wait for the snow.”

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