Quarterback Xavier Shepherd looks to lead Kennesaw State through first ASUN season

When his team needed him the most, Kennesaw State quarterback Xavier Shepherd stepped up and delivered last season.

Following quarterback Jonathan Murphy’s leg injury in the 2021 season opener, Shepherd swiftly emerged as the next leader for the team. He led the FCS with 23 rushing touchdowns, set school records in single-season touchdown passes (15) and single-season passing yards (1,341) and was named the 2021 Big South Offensive Player of the Year.

After last year’s standout performance, Shepherd is heading into this season with high expectations as the ASUN Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and a member of the Walter Payton Award watch list. Kennesaw State opens the season at 7 p.m. Thursday at Samford.

Despite the recognition, Shepherd remains humble and ready to compete.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “I’d say it’s more of competitiveness. We all compete out here as a team. So, I feel like if we can just compete between each other and make each other better, (then) it’ll be more of a team accolade than individual accolade.”

With Murphy returning to the field at the end of last season and reaffirming his abilities in this year’s spring game, the quarterback competition for the Owls heated up.

Shepherd focused on growing mentally and physically throughout the offseason and understands his role as a quarterback and a leader for his younger teammates.

“I’m just trying to be a better teammate in all facets of my game, if that’s just talking to players or talking to the coaches about what we need or something like that. If there’s an issue, you know, always being that guy that makes that first step,” Shepherd said.

Before his injury, Murphy was a standout for Kennesaw State. As a freshman, he set the Big South playoff record with three rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and set a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback (206) against Wofford. In the shortened spring 2021 season, he threw for 275 yards and had three touchdowns.

“They’re both competing right now, both have gone in and played and started and won games for us,” coach Brian Bohannon said early in preseason camp. “So, I think competition has been good, which is bringing out the best in both of them. And I think that’s really been good. You know, (Shepherd) usually keeps a level head, pretty composed about what he’s doing. You know, and I think that’s been a positive thing for him.”

As KSU approaches its first season in the ASUN Conference, offensive coordinator Grant Chesnut remains confident in Shepherd’s leadership skills.

“You always want your quarterback, you know, to be the guy, that general on the field, when the offense is obviously out there, but also be a guy that galvanizes the team and brings everybody together as well, right?” Chesnut said. “And he’s definitely capable of that and does a tremendous job of communicating with our guys, you know; he does a good job of keeping the energy up when things aren’t necessarily going our way. And then he does a good job, you know, when things aren’t going our way of keeping us levelheaded and staying focused.”