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The Ohio State Game Has Special Meaning For Freshman Cornerback Marcus McShepard

From the time Marcus McShepard grew up a die-hard Ohio State fan in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, to his verbal commitment to Northwestern on December 2, 2012, one dream scenario deteriorated and another quickly materialized.

Ever since he first began playing competitive football, the Columbus-born McShepard wanted to play for OSU. He grew up watching the Buckeyes, played against many of their current players in high school, even attended one of their prospect camps in the hopes of landing a scholarship offer from Urban Meyer and his staff.

Once the realization set in that McShepard was would not be featured in Ohio State’s 2013 recruiting plans, he didn’t sulk or rest on his laurels. He soon recognized the opportunity for another, less ambitious, Buckeyes-related goal. McShepard would one day share the college gridiron with OSU players and coaches; he’d merely be standing on the opposite sidelines, supremely motivated to give OSU a hard lesson about the DB they passed up on the recruiting trail a few years back.

“There’s definitely added motivation,” McShepard said about the prospect of playing against OSU in his college career. Even if the Ohio State offer never came, other Big Ten schools came calling. In the summer before his senior season, Illinois and Minnesota entered the picture. Penn State came next. There were MAC schools who likewise tried their luck with McShepard.

Instead of making a rash decision and falling in line with today’s early commitment trend, McShepard decided to wait. After all, he knew if he could just improve his ACT score, and finish his high school career with a strong senior season, a very attractive offer would show up on his doorstep.

Positive feedback from offensive line coach Adam Cushing and Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern’s July prospect camp put the Wildcats high on McShepard’s list. If it  were up to his physical abilities, McShepard believes, he probably would have received a scholarship offer right on the spot. But the Wildcats needed to see improvement in McShepard’s standardized test scores before taking action.

From that point on, McShepard had a new mission.

“(Fitzgerald) and Coach Cushing were my motivation,” he said. “It was up to me to improve those scores, to do better in the classroom.”

When he finally got his scores back, McShepard had an NU offer within days. Less than a month later, he was on campus for an official visit. He didn’t even wait out the weekend: by the time he left Evanston with his mother, younger sister and grandparents – all of whom enjoyed spending time touring the campus and meeting the man, Fitzgerald, who would later become McShepard’s next head football coach – McShepard was a Wildcat.

“Northwestern had a similar feel to where I live currently,” he said. “The coaching staff is a lot like my coaching staff, so I felt real comfortable. It’s just a great fit for me.”

For as much as he would like to lace up for the primetime week six Big Ten opener against Ohio State, McShepard understands the possibility he may miss his shot at the Buckeyes this season. Even so, the chance to participate in that game will provide extra motivational juice in training camp workouts this summer. McShepard will tell you straight up: he looks forward to the opportunity to show up the school that passed on him.

“I see that as a championship game,” he said. “Especially if I’ve performed well prior to that game. It’s the school I’m going to against the school I grew up wanting to go to.”

The 2013 class features four players pegged to at least start their first years at NU fighting for cornerback playing time. Kyle Queiro, Keith Watkins, Matt Harris and McShepard will compete to break into the DB rotation. It’s highly unlikely – the real answer lies closer to “impossible” – all four players will make the first-team roster.

Whether or not he makes makes the cut, McShepard will enter training camp with the mindset that he’s competing for a spot on the depth chart…and a shot at Ohio State.

“I just want an opportunity to contribute somehow,” he said. “Whether that be on special teams or in a starting role.”

His quest begins in two days. McShepard and the rest of the Wildcats report to Evanston June 23; the Buckeyes report to Evanston in less than four months. McShepard’s timeline of goals is plain.