New York Jets defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd played every game his rookie year and passed every drug test. He says he had never knowingly taken a banned substance before this past offseason, and certainly never to gain a competitive advantage in a game.
Shepherd has been suspended six games for two separate violations of the performance-enhancing drug policy. The suspension will begin immediately. He will be eligible to return to the active roster on Monday, Oct. 28.
The two failed tests came on June 27 and July 25, while Shepherd was recovering from a shoulder injury that might eventually require surgery as well as a groin injury that resulted in a delay with his offseason training. While rehabbing for the shoulder, he underwent an MRI on his groin that revealed he needed sports hernia surgery. His hunched posture for several weeks after that procedure led to a herniated L4-L5 disc in his back, severely limiting his ability to train at a time he was eager to impress the Jets' new regime.
"All that was going on, I was coming off of a subpar season and a new coaching staff, new playbook, new everything," Shepherd said. "In my mindset, I didn't feel very confident with how everything had gone thus far. In my mind, I was so prepared to come into this offseason and have a successful offseason and train very hard. I felt that because of these limitations, I wasn't going to be able to do that. I made a rash decision, an unwise decision and a selfish decision to look to certain PEDs in order to help me with that recovery process so I would be ready to go."
It's an uncommonly direct admission by Shepherd, 25, a third-round draft pick last year out of Fort Hays State whose upbringing in Ajax, Ontario, and unique path to the NFL made him a feel-goal story. Shepherd said he informed the Jets' coaches and front office quickly upon learning of the failed tests three weeks ago. Shepherd said he addressed the rest of the Jets' defensive linemen Monday and apologized for how his absence will impact them.
Shepherd emphasized he took the banned substances for recovery, not performance: "The only competitive advantage I was really looking for was being able to come to camp healthy and having an opportunity to compete.
"I'm grateful to the league for showing some understanding, leniency and fairness, and I appreciate them dealing with it in a timely manner. I'm grateful to Jets GM Joe Douglas, the personnel staff and Coach [Adam] Gase, Gregg Williams, Blake Williams and Andre Carter and the Jets' training staff for their support and their transparency in supporting me through this and, despite this happening, granting me the opportunity to come in every day and earn my spot on the 53-man roster."
Shepherd's agent, Bardia Ghahremani, said his client takes full responsibility and will accept the discipline. Under the NFL-NFLPA PED policy, Shepherd could've been suspended a maximum of 14 games -- four games for the first violation and 10 for the second -- but the league in essence rolled the two violations into one.
"Nate has proven he is an outstanding athlete by the numbers he put up throughout his college career and at the combine, where has passed all his drug tests his entire career," Ghahermani said. "We want to thank the NFL and the Jets' front office and coaching staff for their continued support of Nathan."
Shepherd said he plans to continue rehabilitation and training near the Jets' headquarters in New Jersey during the suspension. He also hopes to spend more time with his daughter, Halia, who turns 2 in October. And he knows the consequences if he has another violation -- under the PED policy, a third violation would trigger a minimum two-year ban.
"I'm still trying to get my feet under me, literally," Shepherd said. "Most definitely, I want to be able to provide for my daughter and my family and myself, for sure. I don't use that as a crutch, though, or an excuse, because I'm definitely not the only person in the NFL with kids.
"I feel like I used eight of my nine lives. I kind of have to treat it like I have a peanut allergy -- if I get one more, it's going to be over for me. That's just my reality and I accept that."