Kansas Freshmen Sheperd, Pierson Set The Bar For 2011 Football Season

Sept. 4, 2011

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Two of KU’s first-year skilled players made a big impression in their debuts as Jayhawks. Kansas freshmen wide receiver JaCorey Shepherd and running back Tony Pierson stepped up and helped the Jayhawks to a 42-24 victory over McNeese State in the 2011 season opener at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.

Shepherd only touched the ball three times, but made the most of those touches with two touchdown catches, one of which was for 56 yards – the longest play of the night. With his three catches, Shepherd stacked an impressive 107 total yards, becoming the first freshmen to record over 100 yards receiving in his first season since a 138-yard effort by Termaine Fulton against Texas in 1997.

Shepherd took his success in stride and stayed humble after the game.

“It’s a real blessing (just to be able to play as a true freshman),” he said. “If I feel like I can do it in practice, I feel like I can do it in the game.”

Shepherd’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed and Kansas quarterback Jordan Webb noted how big those efforts were to the team.

“JaCorey (Shepherd) came out really good,” said Webb. “I was waiting to see how he’d do in a game and he showed up tonight. I think he’s going to be a great weapon for us.”

Webb also acknowledged freshman running back Tony Pierson as a big contributor to KU’s victory.

“I was excited to see him play and (Pierson) definitely didn’t let anybody down,” said Webb.

Pierson clocked a 47-yard rush in the second quarter, which led to Kansas’ second touchdown of the night. He totaled 73 yards in only five carries.

Pierson wasn’t the only one to make major running contributions as he and his teammates helped the Jayhawks rush 301 total yards, more than double the team’s average rushing yards of last season.

Kansas coach Turner Gill took notice of both Pierson and Shepherd’s ability to step up during the game but knew the freshmen weren’t the only ones who made big plays.

“They got their touches and they produced,” said Gill. “That’s what you want out of all your players, not just your freshmen. (They weren’t) bothered by the bright lights in their debut game.”

But as well as the freshmen performed, it’s obvious that Gill and the Jayhawks haven’t lost sight of what the team needs to do as a whole to be successful in the 2011 season.

“They came out and played with a passion,” said Gill. “That was our word for the week: passion. They demonstrated that throughout the football game.”

That passion was translated to the Jayhawk’s first win of the season and it seems that that word for the week might become the word for the year.

“They played hard, played fast, played physical,” said Gill. “That’s what KU Football is going to be about.”

Kansas will hit the field again next Saturday, September 10 against Northern Illinois at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled at 6 p.m., and will be televised on Fox College Sports.