Photo By Hillary Ehlen
I had this idea to do a Game of Thrones/”Winter Is Coming”-themed issue back in September. I’ve never seen Game of Thrones nor have I read the books. However, I’d like to think of myself as someone who keeps up with current popular culture. So I knew of the show, books and the saying “Winter Is Coming” which is said by that guy who gets shot in the head by Christian Bale for reading William Butler Yeats in the vastly underrated sci-fi film Equilibrium.
I began to wonder if we could revolve an issue around that saying, “Winter Is Coming”. Needless to say, my mind exploded into elaborate ideas of placing Bison athletes on and around the throne seen in the television series. The end result is what you see on this month’s cover.
Unfortunately, we could not use the exact “Winter Is Coming” verbiage, because it is a trademarked phrase. However, I think what we came up with will more than suffice.
Enjoy the photos within this issue and commemorate the cover, because so much work went into it from our end as well as NDSU’s. So thank you to Ryan Perrault, Wes Offerman, Jeff Schwartz and Ryan Workman for going along and working hard with my weird ideas. I’m sure there were multiple instances where they questioned my sanity, I’m glad they stuck with me.
That’s not what the basis of this editorial will be though. You see, there is a story within this issue that really hits home for me. It is one that pained me to write at times, but it also made me smile too.
Darrius Shepherd is a quiet guy. So when I wanted to sit down and talk with him about his offseason and ensuing All-Missouri Valley campaign on the gridiron, I expected a more reticent athlete. However, I was left with chills when Shepherd began to speak about his battles on and off the field. You see, the senior wide receiver lost his father to cancer in the offseason, shortly before fall camp in fact.
In usual Bison fashion, the NDSU football program rallied around Shepherd and his family. On the flipside, Shepherd has been able to leave his personal issues at the door and continue to perform at a high level for the Bison on Saturdays. That takes strength. That takes a love for the game. It also requires a vast amount of mental fortitude. If you ask anyone about Darrius Shepherd, they would say he embodies those three characteristics.
I wanted to do a story on Darrius and his struggles because I lost my father when I was 20. I relate to what Darrius faces on a daily basis and I know others feel the same too. Shepherd’s story needed to be told because so many of us shy away from telling our own stories, myself included.
When we suffer personal loss, it is almost impossible for our loved ones and peers to penetrate through this hard exterior shell. Enclosed within that shell is a grieving, melancholy individual. However, on the outside, it appears that all is well, as we deflect any arm reaching out to help. For an already reserved Shepherd, it made the task of comforting that much more challenging for family, friends, teammates and coaches.
Darrius did not want any sympathy for his father passing away. The Bison football team did not approach Darrius Shepherd with sympathy. They approached him with hugs, words of encouragement and a sense of comfort. A comfort he may not have felt had he been with any other program. They were able to break down his hard shell and get to the man inside, and that says something about this program.
That sort of stuff goes beyond football. There will be a time where Darrius Shepherd is not playing the game of football. When that time comes, no one knows. Just like there will also be a time where I am no longer writing and editing Bison Illustrated. However, Darrius can look back on this story, in this issue, and recall how much care and love multiple people had for him in his time of need. That is so much bigger than Darrius Shepherd hauling in a big touchdown. These sorts of moments are impenetrable and they never fade away. Just like the memory of Louis Shepherd and Pat Schmidt will never fade away.
I really hope you read and enjoy Shepherd’s story. Although I remain relatively objective, there is no Bison I am cheering for more than Darrius Shepherd.
Shepherd’s story will go live online on Wednesday.