One final chance

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Russell Shepard has always been good at being a college football star.

With fans he's a smiling, charismatic ambassador. With the media he's honest, insightful and a go-to guy for a good quote. On the field, he's amazingly fast and elusive, so much so that you just wait for a big play to happen.

There's always been a lot to like.

"People always have pulled for me and I thank everyone who has," said Shepard. "Everyone knows I have the ability to be that [star] type of player when I want to."

While he's mastered the art of being a football star, Shepard enters his senior season at LSU still trying to figure out how to be a college football player.

The potential has simply not turned into results, Shepard admits.

"No, no, it's not," he said when asked if "underachiever," is too harsh of a word for him. "I'd be one of the first people to say I've underachieved, especially with the potential I had and the talent I have."

Once ranked the No. 1 prep player in the nation in the ESPN150 -- he eventually finished his Houston/Cypress Ridge career as the No. 3 player in the Class of 2009 -- he has bounced around between roles in college, never finding a niche. He came to LSU as the country's top dual-threat quarterback, moved to a running back/receiver hybrid, then to full-time wide receiver. It's added up to a mere 52 career pass receptions and 572 rushing yards and, outside of a couple of long, highlight-reel touchdowns, little evidence that he is what he was advertised to be coming out of high school.

He's coming off his least productive season, a 2011 marred by a three-game suspension to start the season for speaking to teammate and cousin Craig Loston about an ongoing NCAA investigation. When he returned, he was a forgotten man, catching just 14 passes and registering just seven rushes accounting for just 242 yards.

So frustrated was Shepard after the BCS national championship game, in which he barely saw the field, Shepard tweeted that he would leave LSU, but had a change of heart. He knew that when he thought about what went wrong with his promising career, the answer kept staring back at him in the mirror.

"My underachieving doesn't come from the coaching staff, doesn't come from the quarterback play the last couple of years," Shepard said. "My underachieving comes from myself. I have to get things in my life in order. I had to rededicate myself to this game."

He said after the BCS game, he changed his diet, got off Twitter and turned his thoughts to "getting better every day."

Coaches have noticed.

"It's amazing how, as a young person, you live thinking, 'This is how it's going to go,' then you realize, maybe you didn't just put great focus on the things you needed to," LSU coach Les Miles said of Shepard. "Then, the giving of youth and maybe the career went quicker than you thought.

"Now, it [football] is more important to him."

If there is a defense for Shepard's career, it's that since it became apparent he wasn't a fit for quarterback -- he's still never thrown a college pass -- he has rarely had a well-defined role.

As a freshman, he played a lot of tailback to offset a lack of depth. As a sophomore he was a hybrid who could line up at running back, in the slot or perhaps as a Wildcat quarterback. In 2010, his yardage was split almost evenly between receiving (249 yards) and rushing (226 yards).

He's been a prime example of being a Jack of all trades, but master of none.

"In the last three years I was just an athlete on the field. I didn't really work on the craft," he said.

He finally thought of himself as primarily a wide receiver in the offseason and was part of a core group of receivers -- the self-dubbed "Fab Five" -- that put in tons of work with quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Looking to make up for the loss of leading receiver Rueben Randle -- another class of 2009 star who left LSU early for the NFL -- the group appears to be relying on sophomore Odell Beckham and fast-rising sophomore Jarvis Landry as its go-to guys. As for Shepard, nobody assumes his potential will turn to production any more. That would be a pleasant bonus.

Shepard, however, is just happy to have one more shot at getting it right.

"It's been a growing experience and where I am now, I'm happy," he said. "I love playing football every day. I love being around this group of guys."