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NFL dream drives Nathan Shepherd from factory job to Jets

Once an afterthought on the NFL scouting trail, Fort Hays State became a popular destination last fall. The Division II school, which hadn’t produced a draft pick since 1987, boasted a 6-foot-4, 315-pound defensive lineman with freakish skills. Word spread quickly. If you bill it, they will come — and scouts from every team made the trek to Hays, Kansas, a long-ago frontier outpost that once served as the home of General George Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok.

The new star of the Wild West show was Nathan Shepherd, whose circuitous football journey to the small school prompted the same skeptical question from every scout — “the gold-standard question,” according to assistant head coach Al McCray.cheap nfl jerseys from china

McCray responded the same way every time. He repeated the question, laughed and proceeded to tell them the amazing story of the Canadian-born football player who willed his dream into reality.

Shepherd, drafted in the third round by the New York Jets, made it to the NFL with a blue-collar mentality that carried him through dark times. He dropped out of college for financial reasons and worked odd jobs for two years, hoping to save enough money to get back into school. With each birthday that passed — 20, 21 — the odds of a happy ending grew slimmer.

“Most mornings you’re thinking, ‘I have to go to work and this check is not doing anything to improve my life today that I can see,'” Shepherd said. “That was difficult, but you just have to keep the dream alive, knowing you’re that much closer.”302

Shepherd grew up in hockey country in Ajax, Ontario — suburban Toronto — but football became his sport. He was a 205-pound high school linebacker who got by on tenacity, and it was good enough to land a roster spot at Simon Fraser University, outside Vancouver. He packed on the pounds, becoming an effective 250-pound lineman by his second year, but he dropped too much money. There are no full athletic scholarships at Canadian universities, so he was forced to withdraw.

He hung around the Vancouver area, working in a plant nursery and in electrical construction, his father’s trade. He sat out two football seasons, 2013 and 2014, returning to Ajax to work in a factory that made cardboard boxes for beer and soda. That wasn’t fun. He worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., switching every two weeks to the graveyard shift. The hours were long and he’d come home with paper cuts on his meaty arms.

“People say, ‘Oh, how much time you had off,'” Shepherd said. “In my mind, I was going in six-month increments. I was just looking at very small increments of time. It just added up to a little bit longer in time.cheap nfl jerseys china

During breaks at work, he did push-ups. A lot of push-ups. We’re talking 1,000 per day, the “homework” assignment he received from his personal trainer, Paul Watkins, who has known Shepherd since he was a kid. Watkins sent him motivational texts almost daily: “The day you decide not to do 1,000 push-ups is the day you decide you no longer want to go pro.”