Look at “Baby Boy” now! He’s all grown up and playing professional soccer in Toronto after being drafted by the Major League Soccer (MLS) team following an All-American senior season at Western Michigan University. “Baby Boy” has come a long way since he first walked out onto the pitch at Huron High School as a freshman goalie where he earned his infamous nickname.
“I was definitely a lot smaller than everyone that first year at Huron,” says Drew Shepherd with a laugh. “That’s where I got my nickname. Yeah, I still hear it sometimes when I come back home to Ann Arbor.”
Shepherd grew up from “Baby Boy” to high school standout to college All-American to MLS draft pick to professional soccer player. It’s been a lot of hard work and dedication but also a fun and exciting ride that doesn’t appear to be heading off to the friendly skies anytime soon (we will get to that reference in a bit).
So, let’s start at the start – even before “Baby Boy.”
Shepherd was born in Denver and moved to Ann Arbor when he was 10 years old.
The son of Andy and Amy Shepherd, Drew also played hockey, lacrosse and was a very good and competitive tennis player – it helps having a mom who knows a little something about the game. Amy Shepherd earned three Academic All-Big Ten honors and was captain her senior year at Northwestern University. A USPTA Certified instructor with over 15 years of experience, Amy teaches at the Chippewa Club in Ypsilanti.
“My parents wanted me to play a variety of different sports and I think that’s important, too,” he said. “Tennis helped me from a soccer standpoint because tennis is all about footwork and positioning the same way playing goalie is. I really believe my mom played a big part in my success. She was my first soccer coach and my tennis instructor so I learned from the best.”
Shepherd started playing club soccer for Ann Arbor Arsenal when he was 11 years old and then later for the Michigan Wolves. He played club for the Wolves for five seasons, and was a member of the 2013 U-18 National Premier League National Title team.
“Yeah, we won the state cup and went out to Denver for nationals and I have family out there so it was great,” he said. “And we won Nationals which was a great way to end my club soccer career.”
“Baby Boy” took over the Huron goaltending duties as a freshman and was a four-year varsity player for the River Rats. His senior year was a memorable one, despite a “devastating” finish. Huron went undefeated with a 20-0-2 record and Shepherd compiled 14 shutouts, setting a state record for most shutouts. He also was a member of 2013 Dream Team and was a First Team All-State selection.
Those Huron days were “special” for Shepherd.
“We did really well,” he said. “My sophomore year we made it to the Regional finals. My senior year we had what I thought was the best team in the state and set just about every school record, including shutout record and goals-against average and others. Every starter on our team played club soccer for somebody so we had a lot of talent and experience.”
That 2013 team ended up losing to Skyline in a District semifinal on penalty kicks.
“It was devastating,” he said. “But still to this day we all feel like we were the best in the state. We just didn’t get it done.”
Despite his great success in high school and in club, Shepherd wasn’t highly recruited. He also had unique requirements for his college of choice, namely it had to have an aviation school. Western Michigan has one of the best aviation flight science schools in the country so the Broncos were at the top of the list when it came to academics.
“I decided to go to Western without a guarantee of soccer because I wanted to pursue aviation,” he said. “My dream has always been to be a pilot. I talked to the coaches and they gave me a shot and it worked out.”
After redshirting his first year in 2013, Shepherd appeared in eight games and made six starts in 2014, finishing with a 2-3-2 record with two shutouts and a 1.22 goals-against average.
The following season he not only became the top goalie at WMU but one of the best in the nation. Shepherd, as a sophomore, was the NCAA Division I statistical champion for goals-against average for the 2015 season, allowing just four goals in 1,101:24 minutes played for a .329 GAA. He also finished second among Division I keepers for save percentage (.879) and was the first WMU goalkeeper to be named First Team All-Mid-American Conference.
As a senior, Shepherd was named a Second Team All-American and an Academic All-American by the United Soccer Coaches and also earned All-Region and Academic All-Region honors. A First Team All-MAC selection for the second time in his career, Shepherd had a 16-3-1 record in goal for the Broncos and was responsible for 13 of the 14 shutouts – which ranked third most in Division I in 2017.
Shepherd, a little humble when it comes to accolades, realizes soccer is a team game and gives plenty of credit for his statistics to the boys playing in front of him.
“A lot of the credit goes to our fantastic backline play,” he said. “They did a great job limiting the number of shots on goal but nonetheless I guess I will accept all the awards for goaltending. We had such a great backline and it was definitely the strength of our team.”
Goalie also was a strength, at least according to Toronto FC, who selected Shepherd with the 46th overall pick in the January 2018 MLS Draft. He joined Toronto FC II, adding him to a group of goalkeepers including Angelo Cavalluzzo, Brogan Engbers, and Gianluca Catalano.
“I was in Florida visiting my grandparents with my best friend so it was great to be with family and great people to share that moment with me,” he said. “It was certainly one of the highlights of my life.”
Shepherd got the call from the team’s general manager and within a few days he was in Toronto. “We stayed one night in the hotel and the next day we were on a plane for LA to start preseason,” he said. “We were in LA for about two weeks in training.”
Shepherd returned to Toronto FC II, which is league two, sort of like the big club’s farm team. He suffered a few “minor” injuries that he’s trying to get over.
“We have fantastic coaches here and I’m really excited about the opportunity,” he said. “The goal is obviously to move up and play on the first team. We train with the first team and spend a lot of time with their coaching staff and they all want you to succeed. So right now I want to get healthy and get better every day and make the most of my opportunity when it comes.”
Shepherd also is excited about another opportunity waiting down the runway – to become a pilot, either for a major airline or as part of a corporate flight team.
“I have my commercial license and it’s a pretty broad goal right now,” he said.
At this point, however, his feet are firmly on the ground in between the pipes waiting to make the jump to the big club and start playing in the MLS.
“Baby Boy” has indeed come a long – and successful – way.