Remembering Shepherd football’s six past NFL players
Wilson played for the Rams in 1975-1978 era when the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was the home of the mostly-winning Rams.
In the 1979 NFL player draft, Wilson went in the 12th round. Later he began what would be a nine-year career in the league and had various stints with the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins.
In Wilson’s vintage season, he scored 11 touchdowns and rushed for 787 yards in 1983 with the Saints.
James Rooths was a preeminent punt returner while at Shepherd from 1997-2000. An all-conference first teamer as a defensive back for three of his Shepherd seasons, Rooths is much remembered for blocking an extra point and returning it for two points in Shepherd’s 9-6 NCAA Division II playoff win at Indiana (Pennsylvania). A successful Indiana extra point kick would have tied the game.
In the NFL, Rooths played with the New York Jets and three other teams. He was employed as a defensive back and punt return specialist in his NFL days.
As a punter/place kicker at Shepherd, Ricky Schmitt was an unequaled weapon against teams playing against the mostly dominating Rams.
A left-footed kicking genius, he was mostly a soccer player in high school in Virginia. Schmitt played for Shepherd from 2003-2006 before moving on to professional football in two different leagues. His field goals, long unreturned kickoffs and extra point consistency helped the Rams in many a close win.
In the NFL, the left-footer punter sent his sky-high spirals downfield for San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and the Arizona Cardinals. His job description in the pro ranks was that of a punter/place kicker.
When in the Canadian Football League, Schmitt played on a team that won the Grey Cup and was once a member of the Saskatchewan Rough Riders and then the British Columbia Lions.
Howard Jones was a play-stopping defensive end at Shepherd, being selected to all-conference teams and earning Defensive Player of the Week attention. When moving on to the NFL, he was mainly used as an outside linebacker or defensive end. Jones’ best games in the play-for-pay ranks came when was a starter for Tampa Bay. He also saw time with both the Bears and Steelers.
Following Shepherd’s unbeaten regular season in 2016, defensive back Tre Sullivan was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles. Sullivan was a menacing defensive back on the Shepherd team that reached all the way to the NCAA Division II national championship game in 2015.
His star reached its NFL zenith in 2018 when Sullivan was a starter with the Philadelphia Eagles for a time.
Still the holder of Shepherd single-season and career pass receiving records, Billy Brown was without peer in Shepherd’s unbeaten seasons in 2015 and 2016. He was undrafted by the NFL, but like Sullivan signed as a free agent with Philadelphia when completing his collegiate eligibility.
Brown was on Philadelphia’s practice squad when it recently won the Super Bowl. After leaving Philadelphia, he was signed by Indianapolis and was a member of its practice squad.
Shepherd’s skein of stellar records has made it a certain stop for NFL scouts and player-development representatives. More Ram athletes are likely to appear on the rosters of NFL teams in the coming seasons.