JaMarcus Shephard is a man of many messages.
But his volume knob broke off years ago.
UW’s first-year associate head coach, pass game coordinator and wide receivers coach has cultivated a wide receiver revival at Washington, producing multiple playmakers in the nation’s most prolific passing offense. With the Apple Cup and a bowl game — plus, potentially, a Pac-12 Championship appearance — still on the schedule, sophomores Rome Odunze (65 catches, 931 receiving yards, 6 TD) and Jalen McMillan (65, 890, 7) could become UW’s first 1,000-yard receivers since John Ross in 2016. Redshirt freshman Ja’Lynn Polk (34, 567, 5) has been a steady presence as well.
All three succeed in different ways.
But with the same blueprint.
“You typically want the players to play like you played,” said Shephard, a former Division III All-American wide receiver at DePauw University, this offseason. “Hopefully as I’m making this statement any of my former teammates hear this: I feel like I played a tough brand of football as a player in college. So of course I want to instill that in them.
“Sometimes with the way I talk, because it’s so loud, it may seem like I’m yelling at them. I want it like that, to be quite honest about it. I tell them all the time, ‘Just make sure you hear the message. Don’t hear the tone.’”
The Huskies have heard it.
And heard it. And heard it. And heard it.
“I’ve definitely got some voices in my head due to Shep always hollering and being loud,” Odunze said with a laugh Tuesday. “But it’s all motivation. It’s all getting us going. It’s all encouraging us, so it’s OK to have him there.”
As previously stated (and perhaps understated): the messages are many.
But here’s what those messages actually mean.
The Shephard-ism dictionary
The Shephard-ism: “Be a taker”
The explanation: “We’re going to dominate the football,” Shephard said last spring. “I hate at times that we’re called receivers. I tell them all the time — your mama is a receiver. She receives Amazon packages in the mail. Your teachers are receivers, or your professors. They receive you into their classroom. Be a taker. Don’t be a receiver, be a taker. Take the football.”
McMillan certainly did that in the 37-34 win at Oregon, ripping a sure interception from Duck defensive back Christian Gonzalez for a 34-yard gain.
It’s a feat McMillan modeled from a future Hall of Famer.
“I watch a lot of Larry Fitzgerald,” Shephard told 247Sports in August. “Jerry Rice is the GOAT, but I watch a lot of Larry because Larry always seemed to pluck the football out of the air. Today I showed them some frame-by-frame clips of Larry going and taking the football away from a defender who had clearly intercepted the ball and then all of a sudden Larry had the ball in his hands. So I want these guys to have the same mentality and take the football.
“Too often receivers are waiting for the ball to come to them versus being in attack mode going after the football. I want guys in attack mode from the (first) minute. The first snap of the ball, you come offline on dogs and come downhill and attack the football on the post route. We want to be guys who take the football out of the air instead of allowing it to come to our bodies.”
The Shephard-ism: “My yards vs. your yards”
The explanation: “I certainly put a lot of pressure on these guys to get yards after the catch,” Shephard said last week. “I’ve said to them in recruiting, in the meeting room and whatnot that I probably could get your mom open on this football field right now. Between the concepts we’re putting together, us being able to teach you the proper techniques and things like that, I can get your dad open — and he’s an old man right now.
“So I got you open. Those are my yards then. Anything after you catch that football … those are your yards. So when you run after the catch and make people miss and things of that nature, those are their yards.”
Shephard maintained last week that the Husky wideouts, from that standpoint, have yet to outgain him in a game this season.
The Shephard-ism: “Don’t be an Otis elevator”
The explanation: “I try to preach to these guys, ‘Don’t be an Otis elevator (an iconic elevator brand), going up and down all the time,’” Shephard said prior to the rivalry game at Oregon. “It doesn’t matter if we’re going to a hostile environment, or shoot, if we’re going to the library: try to maintain the same intensity you should always have. It shouldn’t rise any higher or fall any lower because we’re going into a hostile environment. I just need them to go in and execute.”
The Shephard-ism: “Don’t be Freddy Soft”
The explanation: “Don’t be soft,” McMillan said with a grin Tuesday. “If you slip during a route, if you get blocked or you get pancaked or whatever … Freddy Soft. If you got to go block a linebacker, he always says Freddy Soft is going to be the little angel in your ear who’s telling you, ‘You’re good. You don’t have to block him. Just avoid it.’ You never want to run into Freddy Soft.”
The Shephard-ism: “No palms up”
The explanation: “Another thing I can’t stand as a coach is when someone’s telling you something and you pull your palms up, and you know the look. Everyone knows that look,” Shephard said this offseason. “It’s like, ‘Why are you trying to front on me, coach?’ I never want palms up. Finish everything that we do.
“Giannis Antetokounmpo said it best when he talked about not leaving any food on the plate. Don’t play with your food. As a young man growing up, we didn’t always have everything. My mother always made me finish every single plate, so I want these guys to finish everything that they do. Or otherwise just don’t do it. If you don’t want to finish, don’t play football. That’s a requirement in football.”