CLA Sports Recruit Interview: Shepherd, Ute Nation & More

2013 Utes Commit Talks with CLA

As a child, X'avier Shepherd was a far cry from being thought of as a future NCAA football player. Shepherd was literally afraid to put the pads on. Today, the Lakewood High School senior has a fan base in Utah that has been growing for the past several years, and he has now officially signed a National Letter of Intent to play football for the Utes in 2013.

"Freshman year was actually my first year playing tackle football. That's something a lot of people don't know about me. I was too scared to play tackle football when I was younger... basketball was my first sport," he told CLA Sports today.

"My first year of pop-Warner I ended up getting hit by my cousin Troy Williams, who's now at Washington, and I quit playing," said Shepherd.

X'avier Shepherd: Junior Highlights

Not many football recruits would willingly admit any form of "fear" associated with the everyday aspects of the game, but Shepherd beams with confidence, and additionally has the support of Ute Nation. He was ultimately able to put aside his hesitation of playing tackle football, and Utah made a strong push for the 5'10" 160 speedster from Southern California last season. Shepherd had to turn down offers from the likes of UCLA, Cal, Nebraska and Oregon State before signing with the Utes.

After arriving at Lakewood HS he finally made the decision to suit up for the football team. Back then, the Lancers were a Socal HS football powerhouse and featured a stacked 2010 recruiting class. As a freshman, X'avier looked up to several players who signed Division I college football scholarships, including former USC QB Jesse Scroggins (transfer - Arizona), Notre Dame DE Justin Utupo, Cal DE Todd Barr, and safety Dion Bailey who received Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors last season for USC.

"That same year (freshman) I got moved up to go play varsity. My sophomore year I fell in love with the game and my coaches told me I had potential," Shepherd told CLA. "I started putting my all in the game, and come signing day I had a smile on my face that whole week that would not be taken off. It was an amazing feeling."

Since well before National Signing Day 2013, X'avier Shepherd was feeling the love from Utah.

"I really like how strong the coaching staff is and how family-oriented the coaching staff is. I like how we're the only team from the Pac-12 to beat Alabama... and now that I'm part of the family I have the right to brag," he said.

In today's world of college football recruiting, fans, alumni and students from colleges and universties are able to connect with future players as those recruits navigate their way from the high school ranks to the NCAA. I asked X'avier about the relationships he's been able to form on social media with those associated with the Utah football program.

"Ute Nation has shown nothing but love. I honestly couldn't ask for a greater fan base. I get to talk to a lot of the fans and they're so supportive. When I went on my visit, I had already fell in love with it," says Shepherd.

"They're highly supportive. They were keeping up with me all throughout high school... keeping up with my stats more than I was. Just from seeing that I'm pretty sure it's going to get even better when I go up there."

Utah has stuck with X'avier Shepherd since day one, and he personally has an appreciation for sticking things out. Several changes occurred at Lakewood early in his HS football career, which led to the exit of a number of high-caliber players such as '14 DB recruits Jaleel Wadood and Naijiel Hale.

"The transferring didn't really start until my senior year when we lost Jaleel and Naijiel and a few other players. I think they thought they'd have a better opportunity of winning or showing off their skills, which is completely respectable. Those two, especially Naijiel and Jaleel, they're like brothers to me. I'm completely happy and proud of them that they made a name for themselves and have accomplished as much as they have," he told CLA.

"A lot of it was issues with parents and coaches. With me staying around at Lakewood, I think the school grew on me... and with the coaching staff that took over, I wanted to come in and be a leader."

There's no doubt that Shepherd is excited to be in Utah next season, but it's a toss up whether or not Ute Nation is more excited than he is.

"I want to say thank your for everybody who supported me and showed love. For Ute Nation, I want them to know that we have a power class coming in. We're young and hungry. We have speed, power and ambition. I promise that there will be changes for the good with this incoming class of 2013. We will be making plays and making it happen. We will be surprising the NCAA and Pac-12 for years to come," says Shepherd.

Sports recruiting blog, recruit news, socal recruits, best ca recruits, football

Aaron Plunkett (Publisher)