2019 Northern California Preppys
Male Breakthrough Athlete
Palo Alto's Jamir Shepard is the Male Breakthrough Athlete of the Year. (Courtesy of Karen Hickey)

There was never any doubt as to the tremendous talent which rising Palo Alto senior Jamir Shepard brought to both the gridiron and the hardwood. But throughout the course of his junior campaign, that talent turned into an amazing level of production, helping the Vikings to become one of the biggest surprises of the 2018 football season and then transitioning to basketball season, where Palo Alto overcame the graduation of its entire starting group from the previous year to capture a section title.

After playing the last two games of his freshman season on the varsity level, Shepard seemed poised for a big sophomore year, but it never quite materialized that way. His 21 catches and 365 yards led the team, but the Vikings managed just three wins and Shepard reached the end zone just three times, twice during a loss to Aragon. Still, a five-catch, 87-yard performance in a playoff loss to Salinas served to foreshadow the big junior season ahead.

There was still one final obstacle for Shepard and his teammates to overcome heading into his junior year, in both sports. A new season meant a new head coach and a new system, with Nelson Gifford replacing Danny Sullivan on the football field and Rodney Tention replacing Peter Diepenbrock on the basketball court. But Shepard and his teammates did not miss a beat, embracing the change and turning into one of the biggest surprises in the Central Coast Section.

“The way he grasped the offense, and trusted it, was huge,” Gifford said. “He didn’t touch the ball much as a sophomore, but he worked hard to create those opportunities as a junior. He is a hard-working kid. He has physical gifts, but he also works very hard.”

That hard work paid off immediately, as Shepard topped the century mark in receiving yards in each of the first three games of his junior year, victories over St. Ignatius, Half Moon Bay and McClymonds. And with increased success for Shepard came increased attention, which opened the door for his teammates to also make names for themselves. After scoring four touchdowns in the first two games, Shepard added six catches for 128 yards and a score in the win over Mack, but teammate Paul Thie also shined big in the win over the Warriors, and it happened in part at the urging of Shepard.

“Jamir is so unselfish, and willing to share the ball with his teammates. He understood that his teammates’ success led to greater success for him. Every team started bracketing him to start games, and he understood that when his teammates did well, they couldn’t double him after that,” Gifford said. “He was making suggestions to get the ball in Paul’s hands, especially in that win over McClymonds.”

Thie would end up with a season-high 157 yards and two scores in that 29-20 victory, and that threat of course kept Shepard poised for a big season. Two games later, he made Milpitas pay with a seven-catch, 220-yard and three-touchdown performance during a big 41-13 win. Late in the season, he began to sniff the end zone on nearly every catch. In the last four games of the regular season, eight of Shepard’s 11 catches went for touchdowns, including all three against Los Gatos.

Palo Alto would end up beating Los Gatos again in the CCS Open Division I quarterfinals, as Shepard contributed seven catches for 79 yards in that victory, giving him 55 catches for 1,153 yards to go with 19 receiving scores. Suffice to say, his junior campaign far exceeded that of the previous year.

“He really stepped up as a leader, and now the cat is out of the bag,” Gifford added. “Everyone now looks to him. We are not putting extra pressure on him, though we are challenging him.”

As surprising as the success on the gridiron may have been, it might not have even compared to the success of the basketball team. Without a single returning starter, and a new coach, the year got off to a somewhat rough start when five key members came out late after the extended football season, a group which included Shepard and senior football captains Jackson Chryst and Wes Walters. But the group hit its stride, with Shepard excelling from the wing to provide mismatch nightmares for defenses, especially in transition.

Shepard scored in double figures in a CCS semifinal win over Carlmont and then dropped in 16 points in a big NorCal win over Sonora before adding 12 more as the Vikings held off Stuart Hall, erasing an early-season loss to the Knights.

“He had to learn on the fly early in basketball season, and struggled a little early on,” Gifford said. “But once he got going, he made a huge difference. Those guys have played together since elementary school, and it tells you what kind of athletes they are, able to go to the next sport like that. We don’t make athletes, we just coach what’s in front of us and try to maximize their talents.”

One of Shepard’s big goals for 2019 is to play every snap during football season, to go both ways and contribute on special teams. After the way in which he turned heads in the 2018 campaign, we won’t be surprised to see number-three never leave the field.

For his efforts throughout the past year, we are pleased to recognize Jamir Shepard as the Prep2Prep Northern California Male Breakthrough Athlete of the Year.

Ausbie led upstart Independence to wins in its first 12 games on the football field, completing 59 percent of his passes for 872 yards and 16 touchdowns with just three interceptions, while adding 592 yards and six scores on the ground. He also had three interceptions as a defensive back. In the winter, he averaged six points and three rebounds per game to help lead the 76ers to a Santa Teresa division title.

Bell stepped into the massive scoring void left by the graduation of James Akinjo, and led the Pride in scoring at 13.3 points per game. The Prep2Prep NCS Junior of the Year was named tournament MVP at the Chick-fil-A Classic in South Carolina and led Salesian to wins in its first 31 games, including TCAL-Rock and NCS Division III titles.

As a sophomore last year, Moran emerged as the Cardinals’ top running back, rushing for 670 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding three receiving scores, and added 70 tackles from his safety position. He was just as impressive on the diamond, batting .397 with 17 stolen bases to cap his first varsity season in each sport.

When Murphy made his varsity debut on the gridiron last year, he started out at wide receiver, where he had 20 catches for 257 yards and six touchdowns in six games. When quarterback Shamir Bey went down with injury, Murphy then transitioned to quarterback, leading the Monarchs to wins over Sacred Heart Cathedral and Oak Grove – the latter coming in the playoffs – accounting for 834 combined passing and rushing yards to go with eight touchdowns over the final four games, earning WCAL Sophomore of the Year honors in the process. He then hit .304 and had an on-base percentage of .455 during baseball season for the CCS Open Division runner-up squad, earning All-WCAL honors in that sport as well.