For East Mississippi Community College linebackers and Bolivar County standouts C.J. Shepherd and William Lloyd, their dream became reality as the second ranked EMCC Lions defeated the top ranked Georgia Military College Bulldogs 52-32 in the National Junior College Association National Championship Football game which was also dubbed the Mississippi Bowl on Sunday at Biloxi Stadium in Biloxi.
For Shepherd, the football game on Sunday was his last in an EMCC uniform as he is currently a sophomore. The former Shaw High School standout saw some action in the big game as he recorded two assists to finish with two total tackles in Sunday’s contest. Shepherd ended up with 38 tackles for the season and 51 tackles for his career.
Shepherd was overjoyed to be able to finish his career at EMCC as a national champion.
“It feels good,” Shepherd said. “I’ve never been apart of a program like this. It’s my first time. It’s amazing to come all the way from Shaw to a program like this to be able to accomplish this. It’s a great feeling.”
For Lloyd, this was his freshman year with the Lions.
Lloyd said a lot of hard work and dedication went into bringing home the title.
“My team and I have been working hard ever since May to accomplish this goal,” Lloyd said. “God blessed us with the opportunity to win this national championship, so me and my teammates were very happy to do that.”
Lloyd’s playing time was limited due to the fact that the Lions had plenty of sophomores that were having great seasons. When Lloyd did enter the game, he made some plays as he recorded 27 tackles including three tackles-for-loss.
The native of Rosedale said this year was a learning experience.
“With me being a freshmen, those guys (sophomores) were veterans so I had to sit back and learn from those guys,” Lloyd said. “I learned technique and alignment position. Those guys taught me a lot. It’s a big change from high school to college. The tempo is different, so you have to adjust to the tempo of the game.”
Big games are nothing new for Lloyd. At West Bolivar, he played a key role on the Eagles team that won the 2A State Football Championship in 2011. This year, the Lions went a perfect 12-0 in their quest for both the state and national titles.”
“I feel like I’m very blessed,” Lloyd said about winning the championships. “A lot of guys coming out of high school weren’t blessed with the opportunity to go DI right off the bat. Fortunately, we had a winning season and ended up winning a state and national championship.”
According to Shepherd, the atmosphere during Sunday’s national title game was exciting with everything falling in place for the Lions.
“Everything was going right,” Shepherd said. “To have a chance to go out there and play for one (national championship), it’s just a good feeling.”
Shepherd and Lloyd have received a lot of support from fans and family in their respective towns of Shaw and Rosedale as well as Bolivar County. The local duo got a lot text messages and calls after the game wishing them congratulations.
The local support has meant a lot to both players.
“Everywhere I go, I’ve been supported by everybody from the Delta — family and friends — it means a lot that I have this type of support behind my back,” Lloyd said.
“I got a lot of texts from back home from family and friends saying how proud they are of me,” Shepherd said. “I understand they’re proud of me, but I’m just doing my job. It’s something that I want to do. This is what I’ve been waiting on.”
Shepherd is also no stranger to big games himself. In his senior year at Shaw, he played in the 2011 1A State Championship game in Jackson, but he came up short of his goal as the Hawks lost to Noxapater 21-10. In Shepherd’s freshman year, the Lions went 8-2 but were eliminated by Co-Lin 47-46 in the first round of the state playoffs. This year, Shepherd was on a team that was finally able to accomplish its goals, which were to win the state title and ultimately the national title.
“Playing in the state in high school, I had the chance but I fell short,” Shepherd said. “Playing in national title game, I just couldn’t let this slip away from me. It was another big opportunity for me to get another ring. I just went out there and played my heart out and gave it my all. I can say now that I’m proud and happy that I have two (rings) now.”
Shepherd is currently majoring in criminal justice and is set to graduate in May and would like to be a highway patrolman some day. As far as his plans for football outside of EMCC, he’s attracted some interest from a few schools and would love to land a spot on a team’s roster. Delta State, Texas Southern, the University of Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech were among the schools that have shown interest in Shepherd.