OXFORD, Miss. – Qaadir Sheppard didn’t mean any disrespect when he suggested the Southeastern Conference is a little more intense than the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But if anyone would know, it’s Sheppard, who transferred to Ole Miss from Syracuse in August of 2016. One of 15 true freshmen to play for the Orange, he appeared in nine games as a reserve defensive end and special teams player in 2015 but sat out last season with the Rebels due to NCAA transfer rules.
Thus far, the Bronx, New York native continues to be impressed with what he sees in the SEC.
“Syracuse had some good kids, too,” Sheppard said. “I’m not going to downplay them or ACC Football. They are good, too, but it’s way more intense (here). Practices are way more live. I’m having way more fun here than I was at Syracuse.”
‘I wanted to see what the SEC was all about’
After his initial season with the Orange, Sheppard, who had been dismissed from the team for an unspecified rule violation, was sitting in class contemplating his next move when, out of nowhere, he received an unexpected text message from former Ole Miss defensive line coach Chris Kiffin.
Kiffin complimented Sheppard on his style of play and later followed with an offer to come play for Ole Miss.
“Coach (Chris) Kiffin just hit me up out of nowhere,” Sheppard recalled. “I was sitting in my classroom. I was just mad at the world. I didn’t know what was going to happen, so I was just thinking. All of a sudden Coach Kiffin hits me up and said he liked my film and wanted me to get down there. I was like, ‘Bet, I’m in there.’ I didn’t care about any other schools.”
Sheppard was excited to have the opportunity to play SEC football and jumped at the chance to play in what is considered by many to be the best conference in Division I football.
“I wanted to see what the SEC was about. It’s like the best football and the best conference, so I wanted to see what they were talking about.”
Qaadir Sheppard on playing in the SEC
The rest is history, as they say, and Sheppard will soon step onto the field in a live game with a real shot at becoming an important part of the Landshark defense this season.
And if you’re wondering if any of the recent coaching additions and/or changes have given Sheppard pause for consideration—don’t give it another thought. Sheppard is used to coaching changes, he told us.
“I’m really, like, rolling with it because I think Coach (Freddie) Roach is like my fourth D-line coach,” he said. “Coach Luke is probably my third head coach. I’m used to it now.”
Sheppard’s first taste of SEC Football came in this year’s Grove Bowl where he recorded a team-high two sacks. Prior to that, he watched on the sideline in the 2016 season—just waiting until he could join the team on the field for some of the grit-and-grind SEC action. He suggested that the game, itself, is much faster in the SEC than the conference he played in two seasons ago.
Learning from Marquis Haynes
So far in fall camp, Sheppard has been getting reps with the first team defensive line, playing alongside senior defensive end and All-American candidate Marquis Haynes—the Rebels’ star defensive end who has been teaching Sheppard the ins and outs of the Ole Miss defense since the transfer put his pads on last spring.
Technique is the one thing Sheppard noticed he needs to perfect if he wants to be considered as good, if not better, one day, than Haynes, and the 6-3, 250-lb Sheppard is shadowing Haynes, the Rebels’ Chucky Mullins award winner for 2017, in hopes of learning all he can during Haynes’ senior year.
“I’m always in Marquis’ book. I’m always taking moves from him,” Sheppard shared.
“I’m always watching him. He’s always getting me better. That’s really what I have been working on, trying to get like him, trying to surpass him.”
Qaddir Sheppard on learning from Marquis Haynes
Sheppard’s take from last Saturday’s scrimmage
Sheppard is confident in what the Ole Miss defense will be able to accomplish during the 2017 season. In last Saturday’s scrimmage, he was pleased with the performance of the defensive line, saying everyone was getting off the line of scrimmage, making their way to the quarterback and running backs in the backfield.
“In the last scrimmage, I felt like we had a good 20 sacks, but the ref didn’t want to call it,” Sheppard said. “You know how that goes; you can’t touch the quarterback, but we are right there. Everyone was getting to the quarterback. Coach Roach is getting us better in the run stops.
“We are holding our gaps. We’re going to be there.”
Seizing second chances
As for second chances, Sheppard is indeed making the most of his.
“I just feel like I’m more mature; I’m older. I’ve learned from my experience—learned from my mistake. Right now, I’m totally focused on football…focused on the right stuff instead of partying and stuff like that.”
Qaddir Sheppard on learning from his mistakes
Count Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke as one who is thrilled Sheppard is taking his second chance so seriously.
“I’ve been very impressed with Qaadir’s effort. He runs to the ball. I think he’s going to be a huge asset.”
Head coach Matt Luke on Qaadir Sheppard
Ole Miss will close fall camp on Sunday, and the Rebels will open the season at 6:30 p.m. (CT) on September 2nd at home versus South Alabama.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)