Editor’s note: Sheppard has since decommited from ODU and will be attending Rutgers University.
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (BVM) — There may come a time in an athlete’s career when they may have to prove themselves. Other times, that athlete has to just go out and play ball. That’s what Iona Prep quarterback Ajani Sheppard is continuing to do.
Growing up, Sheppard had two older brothers who played football. Both brothers, Qaadir and Aaqil, provided Ajani with the motivation to pursue his dreams on the gridiron.
“It came from my brothers,” Sheppard said of his passion for football. “When I was younger, I used to go to my brother’s games all the time. From watching them, it made me want to play football. I started playing when I was five or six years old. It’s just been history since.”
Ajani’s brothers played on the defensive side of the ball, and both furthered their football careers to the collegiate level and above.
During his senior season, Qaadir was a Class 2A all-state selection. He went on to play with the Syracuse Orange and later transferred to Ole Miss. He finished his career with 81 total tackles, including 12 tackles for loss. Following his last season with the Rebels, he was invited to the 2020 NFL Combine.
Moreover, Ajani seemed to be the next Sheppard to torment opposing offenses. However, Ajani settled for offense and perhaps the most important position on the football field.
“I was naturally supposed to be playing defense, but I gravitated towards quarterback,” Ajani said. “When I was younger, I didn’t like to hit.”
The offensive side of the ball intrigued Ajani. It wasn’t just playing the QB position; it was the challenge for him to play the position correctly. And Ajani was ready for whatever challenge came his way being under center.
“It’s not something that’s physically challenging; it’s more of a mentally challenging thing,” Ajani said. “Especially before a game. The week of the game, you’re going through your things mentally and showing your plays, knowing your reads and consistently working. Making sure you’re on your game every day you come to practice because that one day you don’t come to practice and take things seriously, you can mess it up the whole group for the week. It’s important, every day, you go 100%.”
Ajani remains focused on the job on the field. While others may focus on the stats or individual accomplishments, Ajani focuses on his work and how that can affect his team’s overall play.
“My main focus is to do my job,” Sheppard said. “A lot of people like to state chase; I’m not a stat chaser. I’m just going to go out there and do my job, and everything will fall into place naturally. I always tell myself, ‘Don’t force anything.’ Let the people around me work. We always have a good game plan, so it’s not something I’m always worried about.”
Along with focusing on what he has to do on the field, Ajani is also busy proving to others that he can play at the next level. But it wasn’t the easiest road for one of the Empire State’s best QB prospects.
“Just from being from New York, it’s affected my recruiting [trail],” Sheppard said. “Sometimes colleges look down on New York [high school] football.”
However, playing high school football in New York didn’t stop him from receiving offers from DI schools. Ajani received offers from Navy, Army, UConn, Delaware, Old Dominion and others. With 2,357 passing yards and rushed for 1,041 yards. Ajani also recorded 38 total touchdowns (22 passing, 16 rushing) in his junior year according to MaxPreps.
But only one football program stood out among the rest for Ajani: the Old Dominion football program.
— Ajani Sheppard (@ajani_sheppard) June 27, 2022
“The offense they run is very similar to what we run at Iona,” Ajani said. “Coach Rahne, the way he’s able to develop his quarterbacks. He was at Penn State, and he coached Trace McSorley. And me and McSorley have a similar playing style. So, I can see that coach Rahne can help develop me into someone better than McSorley. I feel comfortable with him as my coach.”
No matter the excitement level Ajani has for the next step in his athletic career; he still has a job to do at Iona. And this year, he came in with some goals he had set for himself.
“My first goal was to have fun,” Ajani said. “A lot of people put pressure on themselves, and it causes them to lose love for the game. I just wanted to go out there and have fun. Another thing is winning a state championship and going back-to-back. And beat Bosco.”
And indeed, Ajani will always strive to do his best on the football field. He’s given so much to the game, and it’s only a matter of time before the game starts to give back to him.
“Football is like a getaway,” Ajani said. “It’s like a journey on a road. Football has helped me get a lot of things I’ve wanted, [get to] a lot of places I’ve been, just because I’ve been playing football. It’s meant a lot to me throughout the years. And to be on this journey with the help of my family is amazing.”
— Ajani Sheppard (@ajani_sheppard) June 21, 2022