Tee Shepard is deaf; yet, it wasn’t until he started falling behind in school did he realize he was different.
“First grade, preschool, I was doing everything,” he recalled. “But when we really got to the math and to the reading in third grade, I was like ‘I can’t read. I can’t hear what anybody is saying.’ It just got worse as I got older.”
Shepard was forced to get hearing aids, recalling his first pair: bulky lime green attachments that wrapped around the backs of his ears and connected behind his head. Although Shepard was thrilled to have some of his hearing back, his classmates weren’t as supportive.
“Everybody was like, ‘Oh my God, what is that? Are those radios in your ear? Are those MP3 players? Let me listen.’ I was afraid to tell them I was deaf,” Shepard said. “And then once they found out I had hearing loss, they would make fun of me.”
Shepard is in college now, but the bullying he felt throughout his childhood has made him strong in the face of adversity. Shepard has been around doubters for so long, resilience is second nature to him. His resilience, as well as a nose for the football, has landed him in a starting role as a cornerback for Ole Miss. After competing at a high level at Holmes community college, Shepard enters this season with high hopes and even higher high praise. Head coach Hugh Freeze has been thoroughly impressed with Shepard’s attitude and ability thus far.
“I think about living in that world,” coach Freeze said, ”and I don’t know that I would handle it as well as he does, but 90 percent of the time, he’s got a tremendous, beautiful smile on his face, and he’s excited about the opportunity he has.”
With Ole Miss set to open the season against UT-Martin on Sept. 5, the coaching staff is confident in his ability but trepidatious about how he will perform on game day.
“There’s no question talentwise, he’s talented enough to really help our football team,” Freeze said. “But there are still some unknowns that I don’t think we’ll know until we get under the lights and he’s out there on his own some.”
Shepard is excited to step out onto Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Field with his teammates and continue to overcome. He understands that what he is doing is not just for himself, but for the sake of being a positive role model for the youth who struggle with challenges just like him. He recalls the day he visited the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf last summer to speak publicly about his story.
“That was one of the best days in my life,” Shepard said. “It humbled me. And it not only humbled me, but it just gave me chills.”
Shepard doesn’t shy away from talking about his hearing. Even after living in shame and embarrassment for most his life, he champions his impediment as a model for hope for others in similar situations.
“I’m pretty sure there are a lot of kids out there that are scared,” Shepard said. “They’re probably talented, but they’re afraid because everybody has pretty much been bullied in their life. There’s always that one bully that we don’t come home and tell our parents about.
“I held it in. I didn’t ever tell my parents. I held it in and just fought through it all my life. It was hard, but I’m here.”
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports