The UNCP wrestling team welcomed a newcomer to the program. Redshirt junior Rodney Shepard transferred in from the Division I institution North Carolina State University, which is about two hours away in Raleigh, N.C.
The Durham native had a rather impressive first season as a member of the Black and Gold. Shepard had a fifth-place finish at the Division II national championship and All-American honors at the 165-pound weight class.
Shepard credited the great rapport he built with head coach Othello “O.T.” Johnson as well as the opportunity to further his education as the main catalyst that made him want to transfer to UNCP. After graduating from his former institution in December of 2017, he quickly enacted the official transfer process, enrolled in classes and began his wrestling tenure for the Black and Gold shortly after.
“It’s not like other sports where you have to depend on other people,” Shepard said. “When you’re wrestling it’s all you, whether you win or lose, you can only look at yourself in the face after.”
He has been engaged in martial arts since he was a toddler. He started off learning judo at the young age of three-years old. Judo is a martial art that is quite similar to wrestling.
It incorporates several types of throws that can be used on an opponent, and it also requires a strong basis and body control. Although Shepard played more popular sports, like soccer and football, during his adolescence, he always maintained a strong affinity for combat sports.
Competition has been one of his main motivators when he’s on the mat and in general terms of continuing his collegiate wrestling career. In his short time as a Brave, Shepard has already developed a new means of motivation.
“When I first came in two months ago, I knew that I could impact the team, but I didn’t know that I would end up wanting to really enjoy being part of the team success,” Shepard said. “So, going into this next season I just really look forward to where Pembroke wrestling can end up as a team at the national tournament.”
Although Shepard has been practicing martial arts since he was in pull ups, he did not take up wrestling until he was in middle school. He and his coaches would describe his personal wrestling style as a “mover and a shaker.”
He is constantly in motion and is ultra-aggressive in his offensive approach, in terms of scoring points. Shepard explained that his mindset going into each bout is to be the aggressor, dictate the pace of the match and score points.
When asked about how he felt his first year dawning the Black and Gold as a Brave went, he took no solace in the fact that he finished in fifth-place in his weight bracket at the national championships. The natural competitor within him would not take comfort in anything less than first place, and he wholeheartedly intends on capturing the national championship title next season.
He said he is still processing and reeling from what he deemed an underachieving postseason run in his first year on the team. Shepard plans on rectifying any slight deficiencies in his game so he won’t fall short again.
“In my mind, I knew I could have won that tournament, but the goal next year is to dominate the tournament, not just to win it,” he said. “Once I get a whole season and offseason then I’ll preform how I want.”
Shepard does not have many interests outside of perfecting his craft. He is excelling in his classes and continues to build camaraderie with his fellow teammates. He is pursuing his master’s degree as a business administration major with a concentration in business analytics.
Shepard intends on learning more about the field and its intricacies while he’s attending UNCP. Having the insignia of All-American attached to his name does not mean that much to Shepard because it is not accompanied by the title of champion, which is his ultimate goal.
Even though he didn’t finish the season as a national champion, he was an instrumental member of the Black and Gold’s 2017-2018 ECAC regular season championship team. “It felt good to be able to come in and contribute because the way that duals work I’m just one small part,” Shepard said.
“It’s 10 guys and all 10 guys do their part, whether it’s winning or losing by only a decision or getting bonus points.” He relished in the opportunity to build upon, or regain the momentum during the team’s dual meets. His 165-pound weight class was always in the middle of the line ups, and he would get excited for his turn on the mat as his teammates would set the tone in their matches.
“I’m really grateful that coach O.T. and the staff gave me the opportunity, because I feel like they took a chance,” Shepard said. “I’m glad that I came down and visited and ended up where I am.”