Nathan Shepherd: From Bouncer to Walk-On to NFL DT

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  • By Nick Toney
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Former WR Nate Burleson could tell his bodyguard was having a crisis of confidence.

So the then 11-year-veteran asked his then-20-year-old, defensive tackle-sized protector to keep his head up. He was sure football was in Nathan Shepherd's future.

"You're gonna play in the NFL one day," Burleson told Shepherd, according to Yahoo Sports' Terez Paylor. "You seem like a great guy. Go for it. Don't stop. The game always finds those that love it and love will find somebody that's passionate about them."

Burleson's bodyguard took those words to heart. Shepherd enrolled at Division II Fort Hays State, transformed his body and his work ethic, and became a 300-pound star worthy of the Jets' third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Said Shepherd, "A lot of people seemed to gravitate to my perseverance and my story."

That story is right out of a motivational Disney movie. The 6-foot-2 Canadian started his sophomore season at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada -- until tuition funds ran dry and he was forced to leave. It wasn't long until he was working jobs at a plant nursery, a printing factory, and doing electrical construction, according to the Associated Press' Dennis Waszack Jr.

Shepherd might not be suiting up for Gang Green if not for another job: Bodyguarding for Burleson and his friends in Vancouver.

"(Burleson) didn't know my situation, he didn't know I was in between schools," Shepherd told Yahoo Sports. "It was great affirmation because here's a guy who doesn't know me, who's on a leisurely trip with his friends, relaxing, and he took time out of his day to talk football with someone he's never met before."

"Hopefully, one of these days, I can run into him and just say thank you."

Burleson, a host on NFL Network's Good Morning Football, never forgot the encounter, either. And when he looked up his former bodyguard in preparation for the the show's NFL Draft coverage, he couldn't believe his eyes.

"You could see it in his body language (then), shoulders slumped -- the self-doubt all athletes go through at some point," Burleson said. "(Now) he was relaxed, confident. I realized it was the same dude, but a different man."

"I knew that whatever he took from that conversation [five years ago], it landed. And I knew that if hit home, there was going to be a change in his life. I'm just glad it came in the field he loves."

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