Leslie Shepherd place kicks, punts and plays wide receiver and defensive back for the Forestville High School football team, but Coach Eric Knight says there is one talent the all-America senior does not possess.
"He's our best passer, but he isn't quite fast enough to catch his own passes," Knight said.
Shepherd's 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash coupled with a 36-inch vertical leap gives him the ability to outjump as well as outrun virtually everyone he faces. A starter since the second game of his freshman year when he replaced a senior letterman, Shepherd is already well-known throughout the country, having been named a preseason all-America by Sporting News, Street & Smith and USA Today.
Nearly 60 Division 1-A colleges, including Notre Dame, Southern California, UCLA, Miami, Michigan and Ohio State began their recruiting blitz last year. Nowawdays, hardly a day goes by when Knight doesn't receive scholarship feelers from another college.
In an age where football players have stratified into oversized musclemen or tiny smurfs, Shepherd, at 6 feet, 180 pounds, looks like a normal physical specimen. Appearances, however, can be deceiving.
Some players have excellent speed or strength. Others possess rare natural coordination that translates into seemingly effortless play. A few have such mental toughness and concentration that they refuse to acknowledge pain or defeat. Rarely do players like Shepherd come along with all three traits.
"He's the best player I've ever coached," says Forestville Coach Eric Knight.
An all-Met split end last season as a junior, Shepherd caught 30 passes for 803 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also made 11 interceptions. "I don't think there is anyone in the area who can cover him one-on-one or beat him on defense," Knight said.
Shepherd's focus remains fixed on this year, on the field and in the classroom.
"Basically, I'm trying to improve my play and to make 700 on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)," said Shepherd. "I'm also taking the college prep courses like algebra and chemistry that will help me meet Propsition 48 requirements.
"Last year we went 11-1, but that one loss was in the state semifinals and ended our season. I've played football for eight years now, yet I have never been on a championship team. Helping Forestville go all the way this season is a big goal."
Shepherd's desire to lead the Knights to the Maryland Class B title were evident in a recent scrimmage against McNamara.
After racing to an 89-yard touchdown reception on the second play of the day, Shepherd was later shaken up and missed the rest of the game. McNamara scored on the next play to pull within one point, 14-13, when Shepherd, who was being helped off the field, turned to scream encouragement to teammates forced to play without him for the first time in three seasons. They blocked the conversion attempt and went on to win, 20-13.
Asked why he was adamant about losing a preseason scrimmage, Shepherd laughed. "It's the only way I know how to play," he said.