When Buffalo chose former Stephenson football player Kelvin Sheppard in the NFL draft recently, it's like they got a coach, too.
Known in high school and at Louisiana State University for his ability to instruct and encourage teammates, Sheppard almost was a 2-for-1 pick.
"Having him on the field was like having a coach on the field at all times, too," Stephenson coach Ron Gartrell said. "Kelvin was the most vocal leader we had and also led by example."
Likewise, the LSU media guide called Sheppard the "undisputed team leader for the Tigers as a senior... known for his fiery pre-game speeches to the team."
Now the Bills have the linebacker, apparently impressed first-hand by his play and coaching tendencies when Bills coach Chan Gailey coached the former Jaguar at last season's Senior Bowl.
"Sheppard will be an immediate fit there," ESPN college football analyst Rene Nadeau told the LSU newspaper, the Daily Reveille. "He can play all three [linebacker] positions. He'll play pretty soon (for the Bills)."
The draft's 68th overall pick and fourth of the third round, Sheppard is embarking on what he hopes is a long, final chapter in his football story begun in Stone Mountain.
Sheppard graduated from Stephenson as one of its top linebackers, part of a trio of Division I linebackers that included LSU teammate Perry Riley. Sheppard led the Jaguars to 12-2 and the Class AAAAA semifinals against Lowndes County at the Georgia Dome as a senior, making 102 tackles and 10 sacks and returning an interception 40 yards for a touchdown that season. He was Stephenson's only player to start on both offense and defense in 2005.
"He played on probably the best team we've had," Gartrell said of Stephenson having reached only that one semifinal. "He was a tremendous competitor."
In four seasons at LSU, Sheppard became the college's ninth-leading tackler with 311, including more than 100 as a junior and senior. He led LSU to 11-2 and a top-10 ranking as a senior, the year he became an All-Southeastern Conference pick.
None of Sheppard's success surprises Gartrell, considering the NFL's focus on smart players, not just good athletes.
"He's an all-around athlete, but a very cerebral athlete, too," Gartrell said of his former player, who graduated with a degree in general studies. "He's a player who maximizes his talent."