In Week 15, Canadian offensive lineman Dakoda Shepley played his first live snaps in the NFL.
Shepley and the 49ers travelled to Dallas for a match-up with the Cowboys. He was on the active roster the week before versus the Washington Football Team, but it was a dress rehearsal as the big man stayed on the sidelines all game.
“It’s just like the CFL but you have to understand that there’s 30 million people in Canada and 330 million in the (United) States, everything is just such a larger scale. There’s 32 teams in this league, the operation and the staff size is quadruple,” Shepley told 620 CKRM radio.
“The way I would describe it is it’s way more intense. You think of the financial standpoint of the game and the team success, and everything that goes into it. There’s a lot of money to be made or there’s a lot of money to be lost given my success or otherwise.”
Shepley held his own, even against a seasoned veteran and fellow Windsor, ON native in Tyrone Crawford. It’s Crawford’s eighth season in the NFL, all spent with the Cowboys, while Shepley is experiencing NFL action for the first time. The two lined up across from one another and tangled in the trenches.
“This last game was a big game for me. It meant a lot to me to be on the field at the same time as him, I blocked him on field goal. The realization that it is possible to make it to the NFL as a Canadian, let alone a small town Windsor kid,” Shepley said.
After Shepley opted out of his CFL contract in August 2020 to pursue the NFL, the six-foot-four, 310-pounder beat out two other offensive linemen who were selected in past NFL drafts. After signing with San Francisco in the summer — a one-year deal with the defending NFC champions — Shepley was working towards promotion to the game day roster.
“They did it the right way with me, throw me in the mix and learn at an accelerated rate. With the activation, you’re next up if someone goes down. Nothing I haven’t been prepared for the whole season,” Shepley said.
“It’s definitely come at me quick. Thankfully when I first got here they threw me at centre, forced to learn the offence real quick when you’re at centre making all the calls, I’ve gradually moved to guard since I’ve been here.”
The University of British Columbia graduate was a first-round pick of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2018 CFL draft. He signed with the team in March 2019 and started 14 games at right guard last season, winning the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie award. That helped him adapt to the fast-paced, ever-changing life of professional football, especially during a global pandemic.
“To begin with the season was really weird, just having no fans in the stands and all the regulations that you have to follow with the new COVID, everything they put in place,” Shepley said.
“And then to basically have the prohibition of contact sports in the county we were in to have to move out to Arizona living in a hotel, every game is basically an away game even though technically Arizona is our home now. It’s been a wild ride, but one I’m thankful for still.”
It’s been a long time since Shepley was in Canada as he committed to pursuing his NFL dream. In April he went down to train in Texas and been stateside ever since. He didn’t want to come back to Canada and risk being locked down north of the border if an NFL team came calling, which is exactly what happened.
“You deal with what’s thrown at you, adapt and overcome,” Shepley said. “That’s something I’ve come to be pretty good at in my three years of being in the professional system. It’s been working out for me.”