JaMarcus Shephard’s enthusiasm transcends time.
It’s Nov. 13, 2004, and a 21-year-old Shephard is literally bouncing off the ground, gushing gusto like a fire hose in football pads. His teammates parade around Little Giant Stadium in Crawfordsville, Indiana, blissfully ringing the Monon Bell — a 300-pound locomotive bell awarded to the annual winner between DePauw University and Wabash College. It’s the foremost rivalry in Division III football, with 127 meetings between 1890 and 2021.
And after three consecutive DePauw defeats, Shephard is bringing the bell back home.
“Let’s go back down to the field,” says an unidentified play-by-play announcer, introducing an interview with a human espresso shot. “JaMarcus Shephard is alongside our own Jim Barber. Jim?”
Cut to the field, where Shephard — the DePauw Tigers’ senior wide receiver — cradles a football and bobs like an untethered buoy, radiating rocket fuel.
“He was leading the cheers AND the singing,” informs Barber, the sideline reporter, prompting Shephard to unleash a shriek — ahhhhhhassssright! — unlike anything uttered before or since. “How about going out as a senior with the bell?”
“Oh man, that’s all you can ask for,” Shephard says, utterly unbothered, despite catching just two passes for 10 yards in the Tigers’ 14-7 win. “Three years of losing the bell and finally you get an opportunity to win it in your senior year? You can’t go out any better than that.
“I kept telling the players, ‘Man, no matter what you’ve done in your career, if you don’t go out with the bell at least once, then you haven’t done anything at DePauw University.’ ”
JaMarcus Shephard did his share. In a sterling four-year career, the 6-foot, 200-pound receiver from Fort Wayne, Indiana, finished first in school history in career kickoff return yards (1,430), second in all-purpose yards (3,997), third in receptions (168) and fourth in receiving yards (2,382). A two-time All-American, he captained both the football team and track and field team, earned a degree in sports medicine and joined DePauw’s Men of Excellence, Cross-Cultural Alliance and Student Advisory Board organizations as well.
Long before he arrived as UW’s associate head coach this offseason, Shephard was already the consummate captain.
His enthusiasm was infinite.
It’s Nov. 16, 2019, and Bill Lynch teeters on the lip of retirement. After seven seasons in his second stint as DePauw’s head coach, the 65-year-old lifelong Hoosier has one game to go.
The Monon Bell beckons.
It tolls for thee.
In the moments before kickoff, Lynch rounds a corner in the bowels of Blackstock Stadium and sees a familiar face. Shephard — his former pupil, now in his second season as Purdue’s co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach — made the 55-mile drive south from West Lafayette to Greencastle, Indiana, on the Boilermakers’ bye week.
So naturally, Lynch offers a hug … and asks for a favor.
“I said, ‘Hey, why don’t you talk to the team?’ So we went into the locker room, and he just went off,” Lynch says, recalling the speech that preceded a 17-13 DePauw win and consequent field-storming. “It doesn’t take a lot (to motivate) in a game like that, but they were tired of me saying the same old stuff. They knew he was a legacy and a guy that was a great player, coaching at Purdue, all that stuff.
“It was funny, I just went to the back of the room and smiled. Right there I could see, ‘Man, he’s going to be a great head coach someday.’”
Likely sooner rather than later.
After graduating from DePauw in 2005, Shephard worked in the NCAA’s Education Services Division (2006-07) and with the National Center for Drug-Free Sport (2007-11). But he was always compelled to coach. So in 2011, he quit his job and started at Western Kentucky as a volunteer strength and conditioning coach.
“Randomly me and my wife (Hallie) decided we were going to sell the house and give up everything so I could pursue my dream,” Shephard says. “She had known that I wanted to do this for a long time, and finally we dropped everything, got paid no money and went and volunteered.
“Now we’re here at the University of Washington. How did this happen? I have no idea.”
In the last 11 years, Shephard has risen through the ranks — at Western Kentucky (2011-15), Washington State (2016), Purdue (2017-21) and Washington. He has surged from a volunteer coach with the Hilltoppers to the associate head coach, passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach with the Huskies. He has developed a pair of Big Ten Freshmen of the Year winners, in Purdue wide receivers David Bell and Rondale Moore.
Now, he’s tasked with elevating a Husky offense that finished 10th in the Pac-12 in both pass efficiency rating (119.14) and yards per pass attempt (6.6) in 2021.
And through it all, the bell keeps ringing; his enthusiasm has endured.
“I know you guys see that energy already,” says Jared Dangerfield, who set single season records for receptions (82) and receiving touchdowns (11) after transferring to Western Kentucky in 2014. “You hear his voice early in the morning. He’s got that energy. He brings it to the meetings. He’s going to bring it to the field, especially for the people who need to be motivated. He gets them to tap in.
“He’s always that way. He’s not faking it, too, and it’s coming from a good place. It’s coming from a place of love. He loves the game. He loves his players. He’s never not like that.”
In meetings, he’s like that. In games, he’s like that. In practices, “you’re going to see him chasing around the receivers, trying to rip the ball out,” Dangerfield says. “As a receiver, we’d catch the hitch and he’d be chasing us.”
That chase is never-ending.
The now-39-year-old assistant is demonstrative, and demanding, by design.
“Sometimes you’d have a coach who’d be yelling at you about something, to run down the field or finish or whatever it may be, and there’d be this little voice in the back of your head that said, ‘Hey, you can’t do it,’” Shephard says.
“My players hopefully will never feel that way, because I’m pretty much out there doing it with them. So if I’m telling them to do something, I’m going to demonstrate it, show it and do it myself, so they feel like they have to do it better than I did.”
At DePauw, Shephard did it better than most — and his enthusiasm is everlasting.
Eighteen years after he rang the bell, it echoes. The consummate captain hasn’t quit.
“I’ve had the pleasure of being the captain of pretty much every team I’ve ever played on, so it’s something that has always been a part of my lifestyle, a part of me,” he says. “I try to even lead my family, lead my mom, my brothers and sisters.
“To me, the more excited you are about what you do, the more you’re going to want to come back every single day and do it over and over again. We sometimes get into this profession and take it as a job. I don’t even see this as a job at all. This is just something that, to be quite honest about it, I’m blessed and lucky to do. I’m very happy that coach (Kalen) DeBoer allows me to be here.”