Defense Player of the Year: Kelvin Sheppard
Bowl Preview: Senior LB led the Tigers in tackles and in the locker room
Editor’s Note: The following appears in Tiger Rag’s annual Bowl Preview Edition, available now. Throughout the month of December, TigerRag.com will run a select group of columns and features from the issue. To purchase the 48-page full-color print edition, CLICK HERE for subscription information.
By RICHARD FISCHER
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
With All-SEC performers on all three levels of LSU’s defense, the Tigers smothered opponents through a collective effort rather than by any single, dominant entity.
However, there was one player who served as the glue and the unquestioned leader of LSU’s defense, senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.
The Stone Mountain Ga., native just finished his career at LSU with 303 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, but it was Sheppard’s leadership attributes that made him so much more than just a stopper for the Tigers in 2010.
Along with a strong family upbringing from his parents Kelvin and Tamara Sheppard, the younger Sheppard developed his leadership in part from his relationship with head coach Les Miles all the way back to his early days on campus.
“In my down times when I wasn’t the starting middle linebacker, leader of the team, coach Miles still looked at me as a guy that could become something special here,” said Sheppard. “He believed in me and he told me that every day when I was a freshman.”
Four years after his redshirt freshman season in 2006, Sheppard led the Tigers and finished third in the SEC with 108 tackles.
These numbers earned Sheppard a spot on the Coaches and the AP First-Team All-SEC Teams at linebacker along with Danny Trevathan of Kentucky (both), Justin Houston of Georgia (Coaches) and Chris White of Mississippi State (AP).
“That’s definitely something I will always cherish,” said Sheppard. “That’s something I will be able to look back on and tell my kids and tell my family that there’s something I did accomplish when I was in college.”
Another important thing Sheppard accomplished at LSU was earning a degree in general studies while playing a pivotal role in the nation’s eighth-best and the SEC’s second-best defense his senior season.
Sheppard led the Tigers in tackles for six of their first seven games en route to LSU’s first 7-0 start since 1973.
But maybe the most important stop he made during LSU’s improbable undefeated run came on fourth-and-one against Tennessee with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I knew from watching film, when they motion that guy into the backfield and offset him, they’re running the power,” said the senior linebacker. “Lavar [Edwards] shot in, and I went through there and I wrapped him up. He tried to spin off of me and I said, ‘No.’”
Sheppard stopped Volunteer running back Tauren Poole for no gain, and LSU’s offense took over and scored the winning touchdown with no time on the clock.
After a difficult loss at Auburn in which LSU’s defense allowed more than 500 yards of total offense, the shining moment of the season for both LSU’s defense and Sheppard came in the Tigers’ 24-21 win over Alabama two weeks later.
The senior linebacker intercepted a Greg McElroy pass in the first quarter and recovered a McElroy fumble in the fourth quarter.
The latter placed the Tigers in prime position to kick a field goal and take an insurmountable 10-point lead late in the contest.
But equally important to the takeaways, Sheppard and LSU’s stout defensive front held Alabama to only 102 yards rushing on the day.
“We came out here against probably the best tandem of running backs you’ll ever see [Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson],” said Sheppard. “To come out, and I’m not going to say handle them, but contain them, and give our offense a chance to put up points, I think we did that.”
After the win, LSU’s defensive leader presented Miles with a game ball as a sign of respect and admiration.
“Just seeing the emotion on my head coach’s face, all the criticism, all the things bearing down on him,” said Sheppard. “We could have just folded the tent and just accepted another loss to Alabama, but we decided to do different.”
Sheppard would go on to lead the Tigers in tackles in his final three regular season games, and he now has one final contest against Texas A&M to make his lasting mark in Tiger lore.
SHEPPARD BY THE NUMBERS
Tackles for loss: 11
Forced fumbles: 2
Fumble recoveries: 2
Pass breakups: 2
Passes defended: 3
QB hurries: 2
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