July 3, 2009

Shepherd Loyal to Bearcats

When a player verbally commits to a school (February 14) almost a year prior to national signing day, he can often be forgotten as others commit and/or decommit to institutions across the country, but Clint Shepherd from Eaton High School in Eaton, Ohio is definitely one of the best offensive linemen in the Buckeye State for 2009.

Even though Rivals.com has not yet evaluated the 6' 4"/270+ pounder, there is no doubt the Bearcat coaching staff had him very highly rated on their recruiting board since Cincinnati offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, Jeff Quinn, extended the UC offer way back in November of 2008. Regardless of the number of stars Shepherd will eventually have after his name, it is crystal clear that the Bearcats really wanted this young man.

But evaluating high school talent is hardly a science, and more times than not, it becomes a "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" educated guess. With that in mind, it is interesting to compare the recruitment of Shepherd with another highly regarded offensive lineman in Ohio.

Christian Pace (6' 3"/262) from Avon Lake High School in Avon, Ohio has similar size to Shepherd's (although Clint is bigger), and both offensive linemen started the year without a lot of hoopla. In addition, both mobile big men have highlight tapes displaying more pancakes than rush hour at IHOP, and both are projected to play on the interior line in college, possibly even at center.

But after a very comparable slow start to their recruitment, these two seniors-to-be have taken very different paths. Despite playing right tackle in a run-oriented offense at Avon Lake, Rivals ranks Pace (verbally committed to Michigan) as the #5 center in the country. Having seen first-hand so many offensive linemen at UC struggle with the move to center, especially in a spread offense with a shotgun snap, I know the leap of faith it takes to predict that kind of success at such a demanding position. As mentioned, Shepherd has yet to be evaluated.

Another major difference between these two talents involves their timeline in making a decision. Shepherd got the very early UC offer, and according to his high school coach also had serious interest from Indiana, Illinois, Maryland and Northwestern. But those schools backed away after Shepherd decided to end the process in mid-February and made the verbal pledge to the Bearcats over the likes of Ohio University and Toledo. Shepherd said Purdue and Michigan State have stayed in contact suggesting they could still offer him if he was to have a change of heart.

Pace received his first BCS offer (N. C. State) about the time Shepherd verbally committed to the Bearcats, but he was nowhere close to reaching a decision. After showing his interest in over a dozen schools (Cincinnati, Louisville, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State, and Michigan State among them) by making unofficial visits, Pace didn't end his recruitment until June 1st by verbally committing to Michigan. Pace had approximately two dozen BCS scholarship offers at the time, but Cincinnati was not among them.

Interestingly, Michigan State offered Pace on April 23 and the Spartans' biggest rival, Michigan, offered one week later. Is that kind of timing a coincidence or a recruiting ploy?

Don't misconstrue the point in making this comparison. Christian Pace's highlight film is impressive, and he'll likely be a fine player in Ann Arbor. But is there a bigger difference between Pace and Shepherd or possibly in the course of their recruitment?

Shepherd's ending his recruitment so early in the process and staying extremely solid in his commitment to the Bearcats has probably kept some other schools from offering while Pace did an excellent job of marketing himself by sending out film to websites and schools and making numerous unofficial visits. Although recruiting analysts claim they don't let an offer list sway their rankings, it would seem only natural the kind of hype that comes with a lengthy offer list would seep into the evaluation, even if only subconsciously.

When asked, Clint Shepherd admitted he was somewhat disappointed with the lack of notoriety he's received since his verbal commitment to UC. "Honestly, yeah it's disappointing, but hopefully I'll let people know this season that I'm not to be overlooked. I try not to focus on the rankings so much and try to focus on the fact that I'm getting a free education."

It's doubtful any 2010 recruit has unofficially visited Cincinnati more times than Shepherd. He attended two UC games in 2008, a bowl practice, and has had several more trips to the Queen City to check-in with the coaches including one as recently as a week ago.

"There was no real reason for my trip there last week, I just wanted them to know that I'm still committed," said Shepherd.

The frequent visits and subsequent interaction with some UC coaches has caused a strong bond between Shepherd and the program. "If Coach Quinn (position coach) or Coach Elston (recruiting coach) or Coach Kelly left, that might cause me to question my commitment there, but I'll say it again because it's true. My main reason for wanting to attend Cincinnati is the educational opportunity, and I love it there. My #2 reason is the coaching staff."

Shepherd will attend a Cincinnati offensive lineman camp in late July but has not ventured out to other college camps this summer for a reason. "No. I try to stay as loyal to Cincinnati as I can."

That loyalty may cost this young man some additional offers and maybe some notoriety, but it's a character trait that most coaches want in their locker room. And Brian Kelly's Bearcats will definitely have it when Clint Shepherd arrives in 2010.


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