More than 30,0000 fans will rejoice when the St. Louis Battlehawks debut at The Dome at America’s Center on Sunday against the Arlington Renegades.

For the rest of the Battlehawks’ players, “KaKaws” echoing in the rafters will be their first taste of football in St. Louis.  But the Dome turf is familiar to playmaker Darrius Shepherd, who totaled 241 all-purpose yards in the Battlehawks’ loss at D.C. last week.

Rewind the clock back ten years.

Shepherd’s punt return touchdown opened the scoring in the 2013 Class 6 MSHSAA Show-Me Bowl played at the Edward Jones Dome. He added five receptions for 63 yards and earned his second state championship for Blue Springs High School.

The year before, in the 2012 title game, Shepherd’s 28-yard touchdown catch helped the Wildcats cruise to a blowout win in St. Louis that completed one of his family’s long unrealized goals.

Darrius idolized his father, Lou, a speedy wide receiver for Blue Springs and later for head coach Larry Smith at Missouri in the mid-1990s.

“Going to high school games when I knew my dad played at the same high school I was going to, and then going to Mizzou games growing up – I was like, I want to be just like that,” Shepherd said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“We spent a lot of time outside in the backyard and in front of the TV learning as a kid, it’s cool to see it all come full circle and to have the opportunity to play professionally in my home state now.”

Lou told the The Kansas City Star in 2013 that he dreamed of winning a state championship for Blue Springs too, but his quests ended in playoff defeats.

“I’m happy to share my ring,” Darrius told the Star prior to his last high school season, which yielded another trip to STL for more jewelry. “It was a fun experience having him there with me.”

Several of Darrius’ prep teammates went to Power-5 schools, but the shifty 5-foot-11 receiver was overlooked. Instead, a different dome – the Fargodome, home to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State University – is where Shepherd honed a big-game reputation and enhanced his ring collection.

He finished second all-time at NDSU with 188 receptions for 2,841 receiving yards, and scored 20 touchdowns as the Bison dominated, winning 54 of 59 games and four FCS championships in five years.

Shepherd was a clutch player; he totaled nearly 600 yards and five touchdowns in 14 college playoff games – including 125 receiving yards and two scores in the 2019 FCS National Championship game, a performance that earned Most Outstanding Player honors.

Darrius was not selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, but he signed with Green Bay and caught a touchdown in his first game at Lambeau Field, a preseason win over the Houston Texans. He appeared in six regular season games for the Packers and caught passes from MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

That was the second of Lou’s dreams that his son achieved.

Lou told The Star he hoped Mizzou would lead to a shot at the NFL, but he was mired in a rebuilding Tigers’ offense and never had an opportunity to play professionally.

Battlehawks’ head coach Anthony Becht raves about Darrius at every chance, and along with quarterback A.J. McCarron – another battle-tested veteran with lots of NCAA bling – Shepherd provides a steady hand in the St. Louis huddle.

“He’s super smooth. I feel like every time he runs a route, he’s open,” Becht said during training camp.

“He understands leverages, spacing. He’s a guy that when you get him the ball, he’s going to have some space to run because he’s a very good route runner.

Prior to the game in D.C., Becht had a premonition.

MARCH 5, 2023: The St Louis Battlehawks against the D.C. Defenders at Audi Field on March 5th, 2023 in Washington, DC.
(© KeShawn Ennis/XFL)


“I started our team meeting the night before with special teams because I felt in my heart something was going to happen for us in a positive sense,” Becht said. “Shep was ready.”

Darrius caught five passes for 51 yards and a 2-point conversion, but the former All-American punt returner did damage on special teams with 190 kick-return yards.

“Unbelievable game by Shep,” Becht said afterwards.

Perhaps the most memorable play in the Battlehawks’ short history is the kickoff return touchdown by Joe Powell that shook the Dome roof in the first game in St. Louis since the Rams fled the scene.

If Shepherd creates magic on the carpet again Sunday, 20 of his family and friends will be there to join in the bedlam.

Even an entourage that big may not be large enough to fill the hole.

Lou Shepherd passed away on July 20, 2018, just one month before Darrius’ final season at North Dakota State. He was 44 years old.

“It was definitely the hardest moment in my life, just trying to work through that with family and being away from home,” Darrius said. “Crazy thing, that was five years ago already. Just how time passes.”

The Dome will be a new experience for most of the Battlehawks’ roster. But 30,000 St. Louis fans will erupt if Shepherd rewinds the clock.

Andy Carroll
Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505