BELTON — For the first four years of his life, nobody knew anything was wrong. It wasn’t until Khevon Shepard began Kindergarten that a problem was discovered.
“When I went from day care to Kindergarten, we did a hearing test and I failed it. Nobody knew anything before that,” he said. “And when I went to the doctor, they didn’t have a diagnosis for what happened. They said, ‘Everything is normal except the amount you can hear.’”
Not that Shepard has let his hearing loss influence what he does. He started playing football at the age of 5 and hasn’t stopped since. Come Saturday, the redshirt freshman defensive end will try to help No. 1-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor (13-0) fight off No. 11 Brockport (13-0) in an NCAA Division III semifinal at 2:30 p.m. at Crusader Stadium.
If the defending national champion Crusaders win, they’ll advance to the Stagg Bowl for the second straight season and give Shepard his first chance to play in Salem, Va., after he missed all of last season following labrum surgeries on both shoulders.
“It was a really hard process dealing with that and not being able to play football at all,” the 6-foot-1 225-pound Shepard said. “It was hard for me. That was my first time not playing football since I was 5 years old.
“Watching that game last year, I felt like I could play with those guys. I felt like I should be on the field taking in that moment. We have to play like we need to play on Saturday, and then I’ll get to know how it feels to play in that championship game.”
Watching from afar last season was something new for Shepard, who never let his hearing loss stand in the way. Instead, he put a helmet on over his hearing aids and began playing shortly after the problem was discovered.
That method didn’t last long, though.
“I started wearing hearing aids that were big and in the way,” he said. “When I first started wearing them, I would keep them on when I played football. The sweat would mess them up, though, so I was like, ‘Man, I think I can play without them.’ I started practicing without them, and the coach made sure I knew what was going on. After that, I was good.”
These days, Shepard sports much smaller hearing aids that can barely be seen — making the upgrade right before coming to UMHB last year — although he still removes them when it’s time to hit the field.
He explained the difference between having them in and not wearing them in a way that everybody can understand.
“It’s like when you go swimming. When you’re in the pool, you really can’t hear everybody that’s talking outside the pool. You can tell that people are talking, but you can’t make out what they’re saying,” he said.
It stands to reason that there would be miscommunication problems from time to time. As far as he can recall, though, his hearing has never really caused him any problems in the classroom or on the field.
“In school on the first day of class, I talk to my teacher and say, ‘I have a hard time hearing. So if I need to ask you a question, can you bear with me?’” he said. “When I’m on the field, I read the coach’s lips to make sure I know what he’s saying. I’ve gotten good at reading lips.
“Once I get the plays down and get in good communication with the coaches and players on the field, I feel like everything is normal.”