Blue Springs High School graduate Darrius Shepherd experienced the highest highs and lowest lows in his first season as an undrafted member of the Green Bay Packers.
A year ago in May, the former North Dakota State receiver was one of 20 players who attended Green Bay's rookie minicamp on a tryout. Following the two-day marathon, Shepherd was the only invitee to receive an offer to join the team's 90-man roster.
"I knew pretty much from the beginning that I wasn’t going to be drafted because of my size," said Shepherd, a 5-foot-11, 186-pound wide receiver/return man, "but I also knew that if a team gave me an opportunity, I was going to go in prepared and make the most of it."
Shepherd, who was named the most outstanding player in the North Dakota State’s 38-24 FCS championship game victory over Eastern Washington in 2018, proved to be one of the most studious guys on the Packers. He spent hours pouring over the playbook and came prepared for anything.
And when the 2019 season opened, he was sitting at a locker next to Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams, one of Shepherd's biggest advocates during training camp.
But that didn’t come without some anxious moments on cutdown day as Shepherd was told he had made the team just 10 minutes before the 3 p.m. deadline.
"I called my mom and my family and they were all screaming. They were so happy, and so was I," he said.
Shepherd said Adams praised his new rookie lockermate for his precise execution on routes and how he mastered blocking schemes.
"I worked hard, I really did," Shepherd said. "I had the chance to live out my dream of playing in the NFL. And anything I could – like studying our playbook, working extra hard in practice – I was going to do all that stuff."
Those moments were the highs.
The lows came later in the season when some problems with his return game resulted in him being cut from the 53-man roster.
But a day later was added to the 10-player practice squad.
"Highs and lows, welcome to the NFL," said Shepherd, who averaged 16.3 yards on nine kickoff returns and added one reception for 1 yard in six games on the active roster. "Right now, I’m on our 90-man roster and I’m taking part in all our meetings over social media.
"But, like you, I really don’t know what’s going to happen this season. We all hope we have a football season and the fans can come watch us. You know, the fans at Blue Springs and North Dakota State are incredible, and I grew up a Chiefs fan and you know how loud Arrowhead gets.
"But the fans in Green Bay are really amazing. They love this team and the players, and we love them right back."
That was apparent during training camp when Shepherd took part in a Packers tradition in which players ride bikes to the practice field.
"Yeah, that was a lot of fun," said Shepherd, who would pick out a young fan and ask him to carry his helmet as they traveled to the field. "The look in those kids’ eyes must have been the way I would have looked if I could have done that when I was a kid around any of the Chiefs players."
Shepherd excelled at North Dakota State, helping lead the Bison to four national championships and was the team’s leading receiver his final two seasons. He had 62 receptions for 1,065 yards and nine touchdowns his senior season, including five catches for 125 yards and two scores in the FCS championship win over Eastern Washington. He finished his college career with 188 receptions for 2,841 yards and 20 TDs.
Now, when he’s not hitting the playbook, Shepherd still keeps tabs on the Wildcats, where he was a standout on back-to-back state championship teams in 2012 and 2013.
"Shep was the most underrated player in the metro area," said former teammate and two-time Simone Award winner Dalvin Warmack. "He was the best player in Kansas City. Period."
Shepherd didn’t care about accolades, he just wanted to win.
"Those were some great times," Shepherd said. "I’m back in Blue Springs and still talk with some of the guys. And I’m so happy that Coach (Kelly) Donohoe was able to retire from Blue Springs and then get that (head coaching) job at Rockhurst.
"Blue Springs and Rockhurst are such big rivals, and they play every year. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like at Blue Springs when Coach D comes over with Rockhurst. The players from each team will be ready to go that night."
And once he is able to return to the practice field, this diamond in the rough hopes to shine once again for the Packers.
"I’m going to keep working hard to keep this dream alive," Shepherd said.