Blue Springs High School graduate Darrius Shepherd was going through a tough time heading into his senior season with the North Dakota State University football team.
Before the season, on July 20, his father, former University of Missouri receiver Lou Shepherd, passed away from cancer. Before each game, Shepherd wore a “Star Wars” T-shirt, which was one of his father’s shirts as he was a big fan of the movie series.
“My mindset each game was to go out and honor him,” Shepherd said. “I just wanted to live how he wanted me to be. The lessons he taught me as a man, I tried to live those out each day. I wore the (Star Wars) shirt to get me in the right mindset before games.
“With it happening before football started, it was a whirlwind.”
However, he had a lot of support from his teammates during a tough time.
“A lot of my coaches and my teammates came to my dad’s celebration of his life in Blue Springs,” Shepherd said. That was huge to have them come here from North Dakota.”
Shepherd honored his late father by having a standout senior campaign in which he helped the Bison win their seventh FCS championship in the past eight years. He got a fourth championship ring after North Dakota State defeated Eastern Washington 38-24 in the FCS final.
The former Wildcat, who also has two rings from his state championships with Blue Springs, had a day to remember as he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the game. He caught five passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
“Just being able to go out with a championship and win that award is the perfect ending to my college career,” said Shepherd, who had 1,065 yards receiving on 62 receptions and nine touchdowns.
That led to Shepherd and the rest of the team being invited to the White House in Washington, D.C., for the first time to visit with President Donald Trump on Monday. He even got to speak at the podium in front of Trump, senators, his team and the national press.
“Come here, Darrius. How about, Darrius!” Trump exclaimed as he guided Shepherd to the podium.
“I just want to thank you for having us here, Mr. President,” Shepherd said at the White House. “It’s an honor to be here to be at the White House and experience this. It’s something I will never forget and I’ll share this with my family.”
Shepherd said it was a once in a lifetime experience.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, I am about to talk in the White House.’ It wasn’t anything crazy,” he said. “(Trump) just wanted us to share our experience, so I just went up there and and thanked everyone for having us there. It was a good time. Seeing the White House is something not a lot of people get to do.”
Trump had a spread of fast food for the players to eat, including Big Macs, McDonald’s french fries and Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. He had a similar spread when the FBS national champion Clemson Tigers visited the White House.
“I haven’t thought about it too much,” Shepherd said of the fast food feast. “I have been asked that question a lot. There’s guys on the team who were happy with it and others wanted something different. It is what it is at the end of day. Clemson got the same thing, so he just gave that to the next team, as well.”
During his visit, he also got to see other attractions in Washington like the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.
“I’ve never been there before, and it was a cool place to see,” he said. “On my list of top places to travel, I wouldn’t have put D.C. on there, but getting to go and experience it was really cool.”
Now that Shepherd completed his college career, he’s now training in hopes of becoming an NFL player at the Sanford POWER Center in Fargo, North Dakota. He’s preparing for his pro day on March 28, when he will get to show his skills to NFL scouts.
For him, it’s NFL or bust. He wants to make it into the league as an undrafted free agent.
“My goal is to get the opportunity to be on a team,” said Shepherd, who said he hired an agent. “I am going to do my best to make it. That’s where I dreamed of playing since I was a kid.”