By Valerie Baldowski
C.L. Shepherd has a message about overcoming adversity he wants to share with anyone who will listen.
Born in Apopka, Fla., Shepherd is one of 15 siblings. His father went to prison for murder while his mother was still pregnant with him. His sister and older brothers went to prison for various offenses by the time he was 14.
"I was asked by my mother to be the man of the house," said Shepherd, now a Hampton resident. "That was an oxymoron, because I had never seen a man in my house."
On Sunday, Shepherd, a representative for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), who had a brief stint with the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will give his testimony during the 10:45 a.m., worship service at Glen Haven Baptist Church. He is also the featured speaker for the church's 2 p.m., service. The church is located at 345 East Lake Road, McDonough.
Shepherd becomes animated when he tells his story, his voice fluctuates as he recounts his experiences. As a teen, he took advantage of an opportunity to play football to earn a college scholarship. No male in his family had ever graduated from high school, or gone to college, he said. "I had never heard the word scholarship before."
At age 15, Shepherd was invited to attend a men's prayer breakfast, and was later sent to a summer sports camp run by the FCA. Shepherd had a dramatic experience the second day of camp, when one of the college-athlete volunteers assigned to mentor him, gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and said there was a plan and a purpose for his life.
"I had never heard that from a man before in my entire life," explained Shepherd. "I had been in cuffs before, I'd been stabbed six times, I'd been shot at, and shot at other people."
The older athlete's influence made a difference in his life. Two years later, Shepherd had his choice of 27 Division I athletic scholarships, and 13 academic scholarships his senior year. He was the first male in his family to graduate from high school.
"I am the product of someone taking the time to invest in my life," he added. "He really shaped me from boyhood to manhood."
Shepherd was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Florida Atlantic University, and graduated from the school with Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Corporate Communications.
At age 21, he began training camp with the Buccaneers, but decided he was destined for something other than a career in professional sports.
"I felt strongly that my purpose was not to be defined on a football field," said Shepherd.
He became a representative for FCA and moved to Georgia to speak at local churches and schools on keeping a Christian perspective to lead a successful life.
Some of the local churches where he has spoken on the need for adults to take an active role in children's lives include: Jonesboro First Baptist, Locust Grove First Baptist and Stockbridge First Baptist.
Attendance for the Sunday afternoon service is expected to be between 500 and 600, said Warren Green, student pastor for Glen Haven Baptist Church. Green, a supporter of the FCA, met Shepherd soon after Shepherd moved to Georgia, and they became friends.
"I played college football [at Georgia Tech] as well, so we have a lot in common," said the pastor.
For information about the Super Bowl Sunday services, call (678) 432-5138.
On the Internet: atlantafca.org