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Examiner
  • Shepherd keeps busting big plays for Cats

  • As Blue Springs High School prepares for its Class 6 state championship game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against Francis Howell, the X-Factor waits in the wings to perform his special kind of game-changing magic.

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  • As Blue Springs High School prepares for its Class 6 state championship game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against Francis Howell, the X-Factor waits in the wings to perform his special kind of game-changing magic.
    The X-Factor is senior wide receiver/return specialist Darrius Shepherd, who has been a one-man wrecking crew in the postseason.
    Before the Rockhurst game, PrepsKC Magazine featured Rockhurst on the cover and the only Blue Springs player mentioned in the story was Warmack.
    As Shepherd walked to the field the day the publication was dropped off at the high school, his teammates called him the “non-factor.”
    He just grinned.
    The X-Factor is a much more accurate description of what Shepherd means to his team.
    In a white-knuckle 14-11 quarterfinal win over Rockhurst, the Hawklets put eight men in the box and held 2,098-yard running back Dalvin Warmack to just 66 yards.
    No problem, as Shepherd hauled in a touchdown pass from Wylson Lamb and returned a game-breaking punt return for a touchdown to seal the victory. In last Friday’s 42-7 win over DeSmet, Shepherd got the Cats on the board with a 47-yard touchdown reception.
    “Darrius means everything to this team,” Warmack said. “When a team keys on me – like Rockhurst did – we know Wylson and Darrius can team up and make some big plays.
    “And he's been the man all season on punt and kickoff returns. We wouldn't be going to state without Darrius.”
    Shepherd has 48 receptions for 909 yards and eight scores. He is averaging 18.9 yards per reception and is the man Lamb looks for in game-breaking situations.
    “I think teams think if they stop Dalvin that they stop our offense, and we proved that wasn't the case in the win against Rockhurst,” Lamb said. “We can pass the ball, we can run the ball and we can get some big returns from Darrius on punts and kickoffs. He can do it all. As big a year as Dalvin has had, Darrius has been the key to some big wins.”
    He returned a kickoff for a score against the Hawklets during the regular season and has three punt returns for scores – against St. Joseph Central, Lee's Summit North and the Hawklets in the state quarterfinals.
    “We have a blocking scheme called ‘Jesse James,’” Wildcats defensive coordinator and blocking-scheme mastermind Tim Dade said, “where we hold up the opponents on the line to give Darrius some space.
    “It's all about space, because if he has room to run, he can do some big things.”
    Assistant special teams coach Matt Marble adds, “Coach Dade does an amazing job with the blocking scheme and Darrius does an amazing job when he gets the ball. You can tell that everyone who is out there blocking for him is giving it all they have because everyone wants to make the block to spring him free for another touchdown.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Donte Watkins made a game-breaking block on the touchdown against Rockhurst, and Shepherd is the first to credit his coaches and teammates for his big-play season.
    “So many guys made great blocks against Rockhurst,” said Shepherd, who was surrounded by Hawklets near his own 20-yard line when he broke free on his punt return.
    “In the past, I've let some punts roll and the team gets good field position on us. I'm not letting anymore roll. I got the ball, got the blocks and that was pretty much it.
    “And there's no better feeling than seeing a wide open field as you head for the end zone. You know that everyone has done their job – our coaches, the guys on the special teams who are blocking – everyone.”
    In an ironic twist to the tale of the X-Factor, he is the son of former Blue Springs standout Lou Shepherd, who was a standout wide receiver and return man for the Wildcats in the early 1990s.
    “When I was in seventh and eighth grade, Lou Shepherd was my favorite player,” Marble admitted. “Now, Darrius is on the team. I think that's pretty cool.”
    Lou missed a state championship by one season, but he'll get to share his son's special moment Saturday if the Wildcats get past Francis Howell.
    “My dad graduated in 1992, but his last Blue Springs football team was 1991,” Darrius said. “The 1992 team won state, and now, I have the chance to go to state and win a championship.
    “I will share that championship, if it happens, with my dad and all the Blue Springs alumni players. They all still follow the team, you know, once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.”
    There's another special group the X-Factor wants to share that special moment with.
    “We want to share it with our fans this year,” Shepherd said. “We had more people at DeSmet (for the state semifinals in St. Louis) than they had, and they were the hometown team.
    “We brought five bus loads of fans to St. Louis and you could hear them when the busses pulled up to the stadium. They got us all fired up for that game. If we win, we're just going to share it with everyone.”
     
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