Russell Shepard brings versatility, grit, another star baby to Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A blood-curling scream from just beyond the media room door interrupted Russell Shepard last week during his introductory news conference with the Carolina Panthers.

"His name is Moses," the former Tampa Bay wide receiver said with a laugh. "See, he’s loud, too."

The 10-month-old also is talented beyond his age, according to his father.

"He’s walking, he’s talking little bit, peeing in the potty," Shepard said after signing a three-year, $10 million deal.

So Chosen Newton, the 1-year-old son of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, might have some competition in the star baby department.

Newton jokingly has boasted over the past year that Chosen already has scholarship offers, is driving and taking bids on who he will escort to the prom.

Shepard didn’t go quite that far with the exaggerations, but admitted Moses already is "better at life than I am right now."

That’s saying something, because life’s pretty good right now for Shepard.

He and Charles Johnson (Minnesota) were signed by Carolina in hopes of replacing Ted Ginn Jr. as a speed/slot receiver. Ginn received a three-year, $11 million deal with New Orleans.

Looking at what Carolina offered Shepard compared to what Ginn received, you wonder just how serious the Panthers were when they said they wanted to re-sign the 31-year-old.

In Shepard, 26, the Panthers have an up-and-coming player who also is one of the best gunners in the NFL.

"I’m not no double-digit money guy, but I had a lot of teams interested in me," Shepard said.

The Panthers definitely were interested. The deal Shepard received wasn’t much different than what Ginn got from the Saints.

The biggest difference was signing bonus. Ginn received $3 million and Shepard $2.1 million. That’s reasonable when you consider Ginn is a former first-round pick with 14 touchdown catches over the past two seasons.

But there’s plenty of upside with Shepard, and he has a passion to prove himself.

"I’m the guy that is going to score touchdowns for you and still go cover the kick," Shepard said. "I’m a guy that is going to uplift a teammate throughout hard times off the field, on the field.

"I’ve been through a lot to get to this point."

Shepard is unique beyond having a son with a Biblical name. He was the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school in Texas, choosing LSU over powerhouse colleges Texas, Michigan and Southern Cal because the Tigers offered the best chance to play under center.

He ultimately moved to wide receiver, but became most valuable as a special teams player thanks to a talk from assistant coach Thomas McGaughey prior to his senior year.

McGaughey, by the way, is now the special teams coach with Carolina.

"He just told me, 'Russell, if you really believe in special teams, with your athletic ability and mindset you can be a really good special teams player at the next level,'" Shephard said.

"He’s a big part of why I am here. I look forward to showing he was right."

Shepard entered the NFL in 2013 as an undrafted player, first with Philadelphia and then Tampa Bay. He became a special teams star in 2014, leading the Bucs in special teams tackles with 14. He became a special teams captain in 2015-16.

He also started a trucking company, Shep Boys Trucking, with his father during his rookie season in case this football thing didn’t work out.

"I take pride in dirt, sand and gravel," Shepard said. "I made a lot of money off it."

Shepard didn’t emerge as an NFL receiver until last season when the Bucs were besieged by injuries to Vincent Jackson, Louis Jackson and Cecil Shorts III.

Shepard caught 23 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns.

Among his biggest fans was Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston.

"He does so much for this team that people don't see," Winston said this past season. "Like he’s our top special teams guy. He even gets catches with the wide receivers all the time. He’s one of our main guys, period."

Shepard takes is craft seriously. He bought a Jugs machine three weeks ago and already has caught about 4,000 balls. His wife has benefited, too.

"When my wife wants to work out she squats and shoots me balls," he said. "Every ball she shoots she squats."

Shepard joins Joe Webb as Carolina’s second college quarterback-turned-wide receiver and special teams player. The difference is Webb still occasionally plays quarterback in addition to receiver and returning kicks.

"It shows when you’re a well-rounded guy in this league you can create more opportunities for yourself because you can do more things," Shepard said.

Shepard also is big into community work, something the Panthers take pride in. This past year his Shepard Family Foundation donated 500 turkeys in his hometown of Houston and 1,000 diapers to underprivileged families in Tampa Bay.

Shepard might have gotten lost in the 48-hour signing cycle of nine-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, left tackle Matt Kalil and three other free agents, but he’s not about to get lost when it comes to intriguing stories.

And that story will get more intriguing when Moses gets siblings.

"He’s my first one," Shepard said. "I plan on having a basketball team by the time it’s done."