Tee Shepard was considered one of the nation’s top prospects coming out of high school in 2012. Video: Richard Obert/azcentral sports
Tee Shepard was a can’t-miss football recruit coming out of Fresno, Calif., in 2012.
A five-star cornerback, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder, during a recruiting trip to Arizona State in 2011, was being wooed by signs from Sun Devil faithful to come there.
But his college journey was winding, going from Notre Dame (where he never played), to a junior college, to Ole Miss (where a toe injury caused him to miss one season), to giving up the sport five games into the 2015 season.
Finally, regaining a new love for the game, he entered the NFL supplemental draft in 2016. He was not picked.
But here he is now, embracing the Indoor Football League with the Rattlers, thanks to Kevin Guy, never letting injuries or anything else keep him from the game.
Shepard has lived most of his life legally deaf.
“Coach Guy is the first coach I ever played with that really gave me the opportunity, just let me be me, be myself and play,” Shepard said. “He has made me feel comfortable. I feel like I’m normal. I just do my thing.”
A condition that has worsened throughout his life, Shepard said last year his doctor told him he had 90 percent hearing loss.
It was something he grew up with, but quickly adapting and never letting it be an excuse in life.
He said he believes it began with an ear infection early in his life. His parents, he said, didn’t really know he was hearing impaired until he was about 8, because he learned to read lips and prevail.
He also learned to adapt on the football field, where he became the 39th best overall prospect by Scout.com in the 2012 class, and third-best cornerback. He had 10 career interceptions.
He enrolled early at Notre Dame, but for academic reasons enrolled at Holmes Community College in Mississippi, where he left there as the No. 7-rated player nationally at the junior-college level after two seasons.
After becoming disenchanted with football in his last year at Ole Miss, he got a new thirst for the game by the end of the college season. He was hoping to get an NFL shot, but it didn’t happen.
Shepard, who has 10.5 tackles in two games for the Rattlers, said he still has the NFL in the back of his mind, showing he can finally live up to the hype he was given out of high school.
But he realizes it will take a team that will accept that he is hearing impaired.
“I keep working and hoping for the best,” he said. “I can’t look back with regrets. I’m happy I’ve been given a chance here.”
Shepard refused to have an implant, because he said that would have ended his football career. He tried hearing aids. Some were too big and would fall out during games.
All of the noises were muffled, at best, he said.
“I can hear some stuff, but it’s not clear,” Shepard said.
Shepard relies on his vision to pick up on audibles in games with help from safety Arkeith Brown’s hand signals.
“We do have checks,” Guy said. “We also have signals. If he can’t hear what we’re saying, he has to read the signals coming from the safety. But it’s a work in progress. He’s been doing it his whole life. It’s really more me who has had to adjust. I think we’ve made the adjustments and communication has been fine.”
Shepard said he used a new, smaller hearing aid at Ole Miss that helped him hear the whistle and pick up on sounds he had never heard. But he said he misplaced that.
“It’s good, in way, that I can’t hear the crowd,” he said. “It keeps me focused on the game. It’s a positive.”