Shephard did it all for Cavaliers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
He was Callaway’s Mr. Everything.
Jalin Shephard had a memorable senior season for the Callaway Cavaliers that ended in story-book fashion with a 22-17 win over Fitzgerald in the Class AA state-championship game on Tuesday.
Shephard is a defensive back, wide receiver and punter for Callaway, and his contributions in all three areas were crucial throughout the season.
Shephard was Callaway’s leading wide receiver with 24 catches for 505 yards and nine touchdowns, he was a ball-hawking defensive back who had four interceptions in the playoffs, and he did an outstanding job as a punter.
Callaway has had plenty of high-profile players over the years, including wide receiver Terry Godwin and Tank Bigsby, and defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard feels Shephard deserves to be mentioned right alongside those men.
“Jalin, he didn’t get the five-star accolades like Terry and Tank and those guys, and they deserve that and they were great players and great athletes, but Jalin is just a great football player,” Hubbard said. “He is a football player. He can do it all. He was our biggest threat at wide receiver all year, and he had an ability to get take-aways at corner. And I thought his punting was huge.”
Shephard’s impact as a punter was especially evident against Fitzgerald.
In the first half, Shephard had a 48-yard punt that was downed at the 1-yard line.
Two plays later, Shephard came flying into the backfield to make a tackle for a safety, giving Callaway a 2-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Shephard was called upon to punt with the game on the line.
Clinging to a 22-17 lead, the Cavaliers had to punt from their own 37-yard line with more than one minute left.
Shephard, who had a punt blocked earlier in the fourth quarter, got the kick off, and the ball rolled all the way to the Fitzgerald 15-yard line.
“The first one, he punts it down on the one, and then the last punt of the game, it flipped the field,” Hubbard said. “They didn’t catch it and eight or 10 seconds went off the clock with it bouncing around.”
Shephard, aware that his previous punt had been blocked, knew he couldn’t let that happen again.
“They blocked the last one, so it was a sense of urgency that I couldn’t take my regular drop,” Shephard said. “So, once I took that first step I knew I had to get it off, because I knew there was a lot of pressure coming.”
Shephard had one more big play to make. After Fitzgerald made it into Callaway territory at the end of the game, quarterback Rashad Davis unleashed a pass toward the end zone, and Shephard came up with the interception at the 5-yard line as time ran out.
It was a fitting conclusion to what was a spectacular high-school career for Shephard, a three-year starter who helped Callaway make it to the state semifinals in 2018 and 2019.
“It feels great to be here,” Shephard said. “It’s long overdue.”
Had a few breaks gone the Cavaliers’ way the past two years, they could have been going for a third straight state title this year, but Gilbert is nonetheless thrilled to finally be a champion.
“I feel like this should be my third one, but everything happens for a reason,” Shephard said. “I’m just happy to have this one.”