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Friday, September 20, 2013

Jayhawk duo reunite in defensive backfield

JaCorey Shepherd, left, and Dexter McDonald

JaCorey Shepherd, left, and Dexter McDonald

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During the 2011 season, one of the best battles on the Kansas University football practice field featured a couple of freshmen in the passing game.

Maybe it was just chance or perhaps that was how each rookie came up in the rotation, but then-wide receiver JaCorey Shepherd and cornerback Dexter McDonald found themselves locked in one-on-one battles throughout their first season in Lawrence.

A lot has changed since then. Shepherd has been moved to cornerback, where he currently starts opposite McDonald, who returned to KU after spending the 2012 season tightening up his academics and his skills in junior college.

As freshmen, neither player could have imagined things would play out the way they have, but now that the two have become partners in the same backfield instead of contenders for catches, everything seems to have fallen into place perfectly, and KU’s starting corners feed off of each other’s success.

“I remember those battles,” McDonald said of checking Shepherd in 2011. “I just remember how quick he was and how athletic he was, so I’m not surprised that he’s doing well at cornerback.”

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound McDonald, who teammates say succeeds because of his physicality, got his second stint at KU off on a good note with two pass break-ups in the season-opener. He added three more PBUs and an interception in the loss to Rice and leads the Big 12 in pass break-ups despite playing one fewer game than most of the guys on the leader board.

“I knew from the beginning that he was a great player,” Shepherd said of McDonald. “He was one of the toughest DBs to go against then, and, now, playing on the opposite side of him actually helps me a lot. It makes me want to boost my level because I don’t want to be in his shadow. I want to be just as good.”

McDonald said the same is true for him with Shepherd, who responded to his teammate’s great start with a three break-ups of his own against Rice.

“We definitely have a competitive group in the secondary,” McDonald said. “Neither one of us wants to steal each other’s shine, but when you can see that the other corner on the other side is keeping up with his man, it makes you want to do the same. You have that attitude of, I want to make plays all the time, as well.”

KU coach Charlie Weis praised the start of both KU cornerbacks and said communication throughout the secondary had helped both players tremendously.

“Let’s start with JaCorey,” Weis said. “He’s been listening to Campo now for another year. (He was) an offensive player playing corner, now he’s a corner playing corner. And I think Dexter has big-time ability. He’s been good, he’s been really good. I think he’s a big-time player. I really do.”

Motivational moves

KU quarterback Jake Heaps said many of the players who were demoted on this week’s depth chart have used the change as motivation and that guys like tight end Jimmay Mundine and wide receiver Justin McCay have remained positive and worked hard throughout the week leading up to Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff against Louisiana Tech.

“I think it’s lit a fire under all of them,” Heaps said. “And that’s exactly what you’re looking for. You’re looking for a team that is motivated and (ticked) off, and I think we’re all (ticked) off about how (last) Saturday went, and we’re looking to show everybody that that’s not the kind of team we plan on being.”

D-end picks Kansas

Austin Stevens, a 6-4, 245-pound defensive end from Montclair (N.J.) High, orally committed to KU on Thursday, according to JayhawkSlant.com.

Stevens, a two-star prospect, chose KU over offers from Boston College, Buffalo, UMass, Rutgers and Temple. He becomes the eighth player in the Class of 2014 to commit to Kansas, joining offensive linemen Jacob Bragg and Apa Visinia, Free State High safety Joe Dineen, defensive back Andre Maloney, wide receiver Tyler Patrick, linebacker Kyron Watson and running back Traevohn Wrench.

Comments

741hawk 7 months ago

I kinda like my wife's idea: "Why don't they move a couple of d-backs to receiver. They look like they can catch!"

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KURiggins 7 months ago

Bench Mundaine and the OL..Start fresh ..we want to win

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stanleys 7 months ago

all the fiery talk, the demotions, the finger pointing and the rumors that everyone has responded in a positive way needs to translate into a win against La Tech or they might as well just quit. It gets a damsight tougher after this one folks!!!! Rock Chalk KU 31 La Tech 10

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jaymar74 7 months ago

Defensive backs moving to a 15 yard pass and breaking it up, something we saw at Rice and very seldom in the 2-3 years prior. Hope that is a sign for the future.

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Michael Luby 7 months ago

Sorry fellas, you are still destined for the bottom of the Big 12 this year. Keep trying though, after all there is only one direction to go. Up.

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KURiggins 7 months ago

Heaps stats are not reflective of his play. He has done well if we could catch the GD ball!!!! And we need Hogs our OL sucks. We let Rice push us around!! INEXCUSIBLE!! Still our Def put us in a position to win ..Mundaine and ou OL cost us the game NOT Def or Heaps

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KURiggins 7 months ago

Bench Mundaine ..he sucks!!!! We could be 2-0 if not for him. Dance around it if we want but dropped key passes. Period. That is not Heaps fault..if he plants it in your hands and you drop it. No excuses..bench yourself. You suck. I wish we had last years OL at least they could block. And where is Meier when we need him. I hope Heaps does not transfer again..he is great but needs a WR for Gods sake

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Robert Brock 7 months ago

Getting fired up, PO'd, angry...none of those emotions help you catch a pass. Just catch the dang ball guys!

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BayPark 7 months ago

I like our corners so far, but I hope they light a fire under our safeties--Sendish in particular. Given how many snaps Linton is getting it's clear the coaches are unsure about him. I can't recall him making a tackle (although he was credited with one) or a pass break up in the first two games. We're going to need both safeties to be much more active and aggressive in the Big-12. They were an especially glaring weakness against the option last week.

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Brennan Keller 7 months ago

I don't think we saw any fire from the players last season really, so that final quote from Heaps s encouraging no doubt! Let's go beat Louisiana Tech tomorrow! Rock Chalk!

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Keith Hummel 7 months ago

I remember questioning why we would move one of our best receiver prospects to DB, but I don't question it now. Weis and Campo definitely knew what they were doing with Shepherd. And I can't say enough for the fact that Dexter McDonald not only came back, but is playing as well as any DB in the country. It's been quite a while since we've had a defensive backfield that looked this good. It will be interesting to see how they fare against Big-12 offenses, of course, but I couldn't be happier with what they've demonstrated so far.

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Brandon Mahon 7 months ago

I think right now it means a whole lot, talking about beating up on any team. They need it right now and need to try and get fired up about every game, because right now we have proven nothing. They need to start playing and proving why they are a D1 Big 12 program.

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Displayhawk 7 months ago

So why didn't they get "pissed off" at Rice after the first game??? It's not like they had a stellar game then also. It really doesn't mean a whole lot when you're talking about beating up on Louisiana Tech.

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Rivethead 7 months ago

Heaps really said "pissed off"?

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