Photo by Kent Gidley
Austin Shepherd, a 2010 North Gwinnett grad was a back-up offensive tackle on Alabama’s national championship football team last season.
On Austin Shepherd's right hand, a BCS national championship ring prominently stands out.
For some people the ring would be a reflection of accomplishment, for Shepherd it's a reminder of what he wants to do at Alabama.
"I still have a lot I want to accomplish. I want to have that starting job, be an All-American and win the Outland Trophy, all of that," said Shepherd, a 2010 North Gwinnett grad. "There's a bunch I can accomplish. I want to be on a national championship team when I'm starting."
Shepherd was a back-up offensive tackle on Alabama's national championship football team last season. He played in eight games, but wasn't the driving force to the Tide's 12-1 record and a national title.
"It was good to get some experience under my belt," Shepherd said. "It felt good to win it, but I know my time will come."
With the national title came a trip to the White House this spring. Shepherd and the rest of the Alabama team got a tour of the East Wing and shook President Barack Obama's hand.
"That was a cool feeling," Shepherd said.
Shepherd will be a redshirt sophomore this fall and went through spring drills splitting time at right and left tackle.
"It was good. I'm always pushing myself to get better," Shepherd said. "I want to make a name for myself and be a good back up and push for that starting job."
Working his way into a starting role is a new experience for Shepherd. He left North Gwinnett as a three-year starter and an all-state selection, helping the Bulldogs to a pair of Region 7-AAAAA championships.
The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder has added some muscle and reduced his body fat since his playing days at North, but still has that mean streak that made him such a dominant lineman.
"I try to," he said with a laugh. "I was pretty nasty at North. In high school everyone is small and you can throw them around like dolls. In college, everyone is big and it's hard to throw to them around."
Shepherd has spent the last month recovering from minor surgery on his right shoulder. He had the same surgery done in January after the national title game on his left shoulder.
He returned to Tuscaloosa, Ala., last week to begin summer school and offseason conditioning. With extra summer classes, he's put himself on schedule to graduate in May with a degree in business management. He plans to pursue a masters degree with his remaining two years of eligibility.
Alabama will begin its title defense on Sept. 1 when it plays Michigan in Dallas. Shepherd is one of four Gwinnett grads on Alabama's roster, joining Brookwood's Kellen Williams, Norcross' Adrian Hubbard and Buford's Dillon Lee.
"Obviously, the goal is to win a national championship again," Shepherd said. "Coach (Nick) Saban tells us all the time last year's team is a different team."