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The Palo Alto Pipeline

The Palo Alto Pipeline

As three-star national recruit senior Jamir Shepard props up his phone against a white board on a Thursday afternoon, hundreds of Instagram followers watch his live stream in excitement as he slips on a Fresno State quarter zip and announces the biggest commitment of his high school life: where he will play college football.

It seems that every couple of years, a Paly football wide receiver commits to Fresno State Football and another gets drafted to the National Football League. As of 2019, nothing has changed.

The journey from Paly to Fresno State to the NFL has been taken before, as Shepard follows former Paly wide receivers Davante Adams and Keesean Johnson to the coveted Bulldog Stadium.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I could build a legacy and win a championship,” Shepard said. “I also liked how Fresno State is closer to home so that my family and friends could watch me play. I also have a great relationship with all the coaches.”

The Paly legacy has held true at Fresno State as both Adams and Johnson were integral pieces of their respective Fresno teams. They each broke multiple records at Fresno State, with Johnson surpassing the school’s all-time record for receiving yards and receptions, which was previously held by Adams.

“Davante and Keesean’s success at Fresno State has influenced me because we all came from the same place,” Shepard said. “They both went to Paly and Fresno State, both broke records and both were drafted to the NFL. I feel I can be the next one and I know Fresno can see that in me.”

Adams, Paly Class of 2011, only started playing football his junior year, according to former defensive Paly football coach and current P.E.. teacher Jacob Halas.

A two-star basketball recruit as well as two-star wide receiver recruit, Adams led the Paly football team to the 2010 California Interscholastic Federation Division I State Championships.

“Athletically, he was a freak,” Halas said. “I mean he could jump through the roof. But what I noticed was his quickness and shiftiness. He’s real twitchy. Davante got better every season, every game, and it was no surprise that he did well at Fresno State. Great kid.”

Adams was later selected in the 2014 NFL draft in the second round by the Green Bay Packers, and with a couple of seasons under his belt, he found his way to the Pro Bowl in 2018 and 2019. According to ESPN, he is regarded as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL.

Meanwhile, Johnson, who graduated from Paly in 2015, was also an explosive player for the Paly football team, according to Halas.

Though his brother was a star player at St. Francis High School at the time, Johnson kept grinding at the sport until he got the scholarship to Fresno State.

“Very similarly, Keesean Johnson, was a very nice kid, polite, humble and quiet,” Halas said. “But physically, Keesean was smooth. That’s the best thing I could say about Keesean, very smooth runner, big hands.”

Johnson led all Football Bowl Subdivision players in consecutive games with at least one caught pass.

The Arizona Cardinals selected him in the sixth round at the 2019 NFL draft, and he is the first Fresno State wide receiver to be drafted to the NFL since Adams in 2014.

Halas said the success of Adams and Johnson had some effect in Fresno State wanting more players from Paly. With Adams and Johnson both being leading players for the Bulldogs, he said the schools have developed a type of relationship.

“When Fresno State took Davante, and he had such a good career, it was Keesean that was next,” Halas said. “Then they took Keesean, and he had a good career, and now they just got our guy here. Yeah, so we have developed a kind of a pipeline, if you will, to Fresno State.”

Current Paly varsity football team coach and athletic director Nelson Gifford recently joined the program, and has seen Shepard evolve into the player he is today. Gifford noted that along with Fresno State being familiar with Paly, it was great for Shepard to have two other Paly alumni as mentors in his big recruitment decision.

“I think having a previous relationship is always a good thing,” Gifford said. “Obviously, they (Fresno State) hit it out of the park with the previous two players that they recruited there. So I think they felt a certain level of trust coming in recruiting Jamir. Certainly, I think it went the other way, with Jamir having known those guys, and being able to reach out to them and get their feedback on their own experience played a role in his commitment to the school.”

Although Gifford did not coach Adams and Johnson during their time at Paly, he said Shepard is regarded to be just as skilled as them.

“There are staff members here who have coached those two guys, David Duran and Jake Halas, and they’ve said that in terms of physical ability and talent and what he’s (Shepard) done so far, he’s at the same level with both athletes,” Gifford said.

Gifford has great faith that Shepard will have a successful career at Fresno State and believes that he made the right choice to be a Bulldog.

“I think he will do great,” Gifford said. “I think it’s a great fit for him. I think that when he went there, he saw an environment where he knew he could be successful. He had a connection with the coaches, with the community, and I think the sky’s the limit.”

As the former Paly superstars found their way from Palo Alto to Fresno State to the NFL, Shepard said both Adams and Johnson have inspired him to follow in their footsteps. Although he finds himself in a similar position, he hopes to leave an even bigger mark.

Shepard said, “It feels great to be in an elite group coming from Paly to Fresno State because I know how they (Adams and Johnson) were at these two schools and I’m going to be the next but better, and I just know it.”

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