A broken hand turned top Canadian offensive line prospect Dakoda Shepley into a football player.
Shepley was a hockey player growing up in Windsor, Ont. He started playing at the age of eight, beginning as a defenceman then switching to forward because he wanted to score more goals. But a hand injury led to consultation with a doctor who, in addition to a medical opinion, offered some sage career advice.
“He gave me a 30-minute lecture questioning why I was playing hockey and not football,” Shepley said. “The surgeon looked at my size – at the time I was six-foot-three, 260 pounds – and said if you’re not playing football I’m going to be mad about the wasted opportunity and potential. He didn’t really give me a choice.”
Shepley had played football sparingly in grade nine and actually got kicked off the team in grade 10 due to conflicts with his travel hockey schedule. The junior football coach asked for his jersey in the hallway after Shepley told him he couldn’t make football practice because he had to go see the doctor about that broken hand.
“I had the jersey in my backpack and I handed it to him,” Shepley said. “I remember that vividly.”
But heeding the surgeon’s advice, Shepley quit playing hockey and focused on football at Holy Names High School. All Shepley knew about playing offensive line at that time was run plays right, left or passing the ball, basic knowledge. However, he quickly picked up the game and continued to fill out.
And a little inspiration helped.
The same year Shepley donned a helmet and pads for the first time, offensive lineman T.J. Lang was a fourth-selection of the Green Bay Packers. Lang is from nearby Royal Oak, MI and he’s gone on to have a stellar NFL career that’s included a Super Bowl win in 2011 and two Pro Bowl nods, including last season as a member of the Detroit Lions.
“I was on YouTube watching offensive linemen. That’s really when I started paying attention to T.J. Laing. I needed someone that I could relate to starting out and that was the guy,” Shepley said. “He got picked up in 2009 and I’ve been following him ever since, I was in grade nine when that happened.”
The two now train together at the Barwis Performance Center in Plymouth, MI.
“I haven’t told him this yet, but he’s the reason I wanted to be an offensive lineman,” Shepley said.
Though initially hoping to attend an American school – Saginaw Valley State, Fordham University, Central Michigan and Rutgers all made inquiries – it was a trip to Vancouver and the University of British Columbia that convinced Shepley it was the right place for him.
“I had never heard of UBC in my life. I went there to visit and I knew right away I had to go there,” Shepley said. “A big selling point for UBC, they said we’ve sent more players to the CFL than any Canadian school. The fact that UBC is on the CFL’s radar to the point where they’ve sent at the time 153 players in total to the CFL made it easy for me.”
The decision has worked out well for both the Thunderbirds and Shepley as he’s developed into a stout offensive lineman. And it gave the six-foot-five, 305-pounder a chance to matchup against high-level competition, including University of Manitoba product and current New Orleans Saints defensive lineman David Onyemata.
“If I can go against Onyemata in the same conference then I can play at the same level that he is because I’ve already done it. Keeping him off my quarterback was a confidence boost,” Shepley said. “Honestly, he was a handful and it wasn’t easy. The game plan was ‘alright we got Onyemata in the middle’ and we didn’t even know the names of their ends. He can knock you over with one arm. I knew that he was a special player.”
Shepley is confident in his ability to become a pro football player and knows the window to play professional football is small, which is why he put aside his drums, guitar and potential acting career to focus on football.
After signing up online to be an extra in movies shot in Vancouver, Shepley got called to be a body double in a Netflix original movie that’s soon to be released. That led to another opportunity in a major feature film.
“I went in and got fitted as an extra, they took my photos and then a day later I got a call from a talent agent that was working for the movie,” Shepley said. “They said they looked at my photos and liked my look.”
So he was sent to Los Angeles to get a live cast of his face in order to fit prosthetics on properly.
“All of a sudden I had a bigger role in the movie. I filmed for 15 days,” Shepley said. “I moved back to Windsor to train and now I have agents calling me asking me to do commercials and other movies and I can’t do it: football is my main focus.”
At the CFL combine in Winnipeg, Shepley was one of the stars.
“Shepley stood out and should be one of the top picks off the board,” a CFL scout said.
That’s if Shepley doesn’t get an NFL opportunity.
Shepley’s top-secret movie comes out in May, by then Shepley’s pro football dreams will be realized.