A pair of area high school football standouts made decisions on their college careers while making official visits over the weekend.
Blue Springs all-state receiver and ace punt returner Darrius Shepherd gave a verbal commitment to South Dakota, while Fort Osage all-state linebacker Nathan Iloilo did the same to Illinois State. Both schools are in the Missouri Valley Conference for football, competing at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) level.
The commitments are non-binding, since student-athletes don’t sign official letters of intent until next month, but both players felt secure enough with their decisions that they passed up some future scheduled visits.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Shepherd, who was the go-to receiver on Blue Springs’ back-to-back Class 6 state championship teams, will join a Coyotes team that went 4-8 last season, but that was after a 1-10 mark in Joe Glenn’s first season as head coach. The South Dakota campus is located in Vermillion.
“They have a great coaching staff, and it’s a good opportunity to come in and help the get the program going, and I also liked the educational opportunities there,” said Shepherd, adding that he’s considering majoring in kineseology or education.
As a senior, Shepherd had 75 catches for 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns and averaged 17.3 yards on 29 punt returns, including a touchdown in the Wildcats’ state-championship win over Columbia Rock Bridge. In 14 games he totaled 2,078 all-purpose yards and 18 TDs, and on defense he added 25 tackles and two interceptions in part-time duty at cornerback.
In his career Shepherd had 134 catches for 2,369 yards and 35 touchdowns.
“I was really focused on the season, and once that was over I really started to look at schools,” said Shepherd, who had previously visited Holy Cross.
Iloilo, who visited South Dakota State the previous weekend, said he felt like the ISU campus in Normal, Ill., was a “home away from home.”
“I’m very blessed that I’ve had this come upon me,” Iloilo said. “My family loved it there, I loved it there as well and they left the decision up to me after getting a look at the campus.
“Saturday we got out of the weight room, I called my recruiting coach over and they were pretty overjoyed. One of them jumped into me for a hug."
Though the Redbirds finished 5-6 last season, Iloilo said there is plenty of optimism in the program. After playing both linebacker and defensive end during his time at Fort Osage, the 6-2, 240-pound Iloilo said he could do both at Illinois State.
“They’re actually going to start me at outside linebacker, and depending on how big I get I could make the transition to end,” he said. “(Head coach Brock Spack) is a defensive coach, which was a big thing for me. He coaches linebackers, my recruiting coach coaches linebackers and the defensive coordinator is the D-line coach, so I’ll be spending a lot of time with them.”
Iloilo said he plans to major in exercise science with a business minor.
As a senior Iloilo had 64 tackles (28 solo), 11.5 of them for loss, as the leader of a defense that never allowed more than 14 points in a game. In his last game, a 14-9 loss to Kearney in the Class 5 state quarterfinals that was Fort Osage’s only blemish, he had 11 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown.
A three-year starter, Iloilo finished his career with 206 tackles (41.5 for loss), 12.5 sacks, four interceptions and six forced fumbles.