When Russell Shepard was a high school quarterback in Texas, he was also a huge fan of a toothy, chatty, dual-threat quarterback who was gaining national buzz as he led Blinn junior college to a national title just down the street.
When Shepard was a receiver at LSU, he watched that same grinning quarterback captivate the college football world in an Auburn jersey as he set records and won a national championship.
And now, Shepard is a new wideout for the Carolina Panthers who will be catching passes from that very same quarterback.
“Cam (Newton) is a big reason why I’m here,” Shepard said Wednesday, a few hours before Carolina held its first training camp practice of 2017. “Watching him, his leadership style, his style of play, his confidence, his ‘swag’ as he says, I’m a big fan of Cam Newton.
“I’m looking forward to getting his trust by making plays, being in the right spot at the right time and building a relationship on and off the field.”
Shepard, who signed in free agency after spending five years with Tampa Bay, said he had other options after a strong 2016. But Newton’s presence, along with the offensive ideas pitched to him by the Panthers staff, helped him make his decision.
“That’s a big reason why I came here (too),” he said. “That was probably the next big thing: Being able to evolve with this offense. Being able to get in the backfield. Being able to play outside and inside. Being able to still have the opportunity to contribute to special teams when needed. ...
“Like I said, I’m excited to be a part of what we’re doing here.”
Shepard joins a crowded receviers room that underperformed in 2016. Head coach Ron Rivera and former general manager Dave Gettleman took steps to correct that – in fact, almost overcorrected – by hiring receivers coach Lance Taylor and former slot star Jerricho Cotchery, adding speedy, versatile receivers/running backs Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, and loading the position with a dozen other receivers who have one thing in common: Their speed.
Shepard had a strong spring, but Newton, recovering from shoulder surgery, was not throwing to him. Instead, backup quarterback Derek Anderson handled the first-team duties. Shepard also was unable to attend the receiver sessions Newton held in Baltimore before training camp, because of his wedding anniversary.
Newton and Shepard have still managed to develop a strong start to their relationship off the field, Shepard said. The two may bond in the future over the athletic ability of their young sons. Shepard’s 14-month-old son, Moses, is already speeding around the house and Chosen, Newton’s son, is ... well, Newton’s son.
“I tell Cam all the time we have to get this duo going,” Shepard said. “I need Chosen to deliver the ball to Moses. Those are two powerful names, and I think we can get something going.”
But on the field, the two might have to compete for oxygen despite being on the same side. Newton is notorious for his training camp smack-talk, but Shepard said he’s likely to be the chattiest player on the offense – and he’s proud of it.
“I talk a lot too,” he said. “I’m a loud dude. I’m new to this organization so I’m not as loud as I’m gonna be toward the end of the year, but I get pretty loud. ... I’ll just feed off Cam, and I think Cam is going to feed off me. I look forward to being loud with him.”