Thanks to my favorite NFL team, the Chicago Bears, for giving Iowa receiver Don Shumpert a chance.
He is considered a longshot to make the Bears’ roster as a free agent, or any NFL roster for that matter, but at least Shumpert has the opportunity to pursue a dream.
The St. Louis native expressed his excitement on Twitter shortly after accepting Chicago’s offer on May 11.
“Thank God for the opportunity. Chicago Bears!” Shumpert said.
This is the first time in a column that I’ve thanked a professional team for giving a former Hawkeye an opportunity, and it likely will be the last.
I made an exception with Shumpert because he deserves it. He deserves praise and admiration for persevering through tough times and for facing adversity with the courage and resolve that a person should.
Shumpert has my respect for lots of reasons, even though I barely know him beyond the few times he was interviewed as a Hawkeye. It was one of those interviews, though, that convinced me that Shumpert deserves my respect.
It happened this past Sept. 10 on a Tuesday, which is also the day each week during the football season that Iowa holds its weekly news conferences.
Shumpert normally wouldn’t have been on the list of players requested for interviews because his contributions on the field were few and far between. Unfortunately, for Shumpert, he was coming off two games against Northern Illinois and Missouri State in which he dropped several passes and it was considered a storyline.
Shumpert politely answered each question from reporters that day. The same few questions were asked repeatedly by different reporters at different times, as is often the case during the Tuesday press conferences. But Shumpert stood his ground, stayed patient and made no excuses.
“I’ve just got to concentrate more, make the makeable plays,” Shumpert said. “Just do what I do every day in practice, and take it over to the game.”
Shumpert had to realize heading into the news conference that his drops would be the focus, and yet he still showed up. He earned my respect that day.
Shumpert also deserves respect for staying the course as a Hawkeye because it’s so easy to be derailed as a student-athlete, especially when things don’t always go your way. Shumpert lost his starting position to then-sophomore Tevaun Smith early in the 2013 season, but Shumpert never lost his focus.
I feel comfortable in saying that because of how well Shumpert played late in the season, the highlight being the two passes he caught for 69 yards during Iowa’s 38-14 victory at Purdue on Nov. 9. Each catch came on a scoring drive.
Shumpert entered the Purdue game with only five catches for 51 yards on the season. So he probably had more dropped passes than catches, but he didn’t let that affect him. He caught at least one pass in each of Iowa’s final five games last season, including the Outback Bowl.
Shumpert deserves respect for more than just persevering as a football player.
Three days after thanking the Bears on Twitter for giving him an opportunity, Shumpert also used Twitter to express his excitement on May 14 about graduating from the University of Iowa.
“I’m officially a U of Iowa graduate! Best feeling ever!” Shumpert wrote.
He also thanked Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle on Twitter that same day simply by saying “thanks coach in response to Doyle praising Shumpert on Twitter by telling him he had earned his degree.
The fact that Shumpert graduated from Iowa while also juggling the demands of playing big-time college football is impressive by itself. But he did it in just four years without taking a red shirt in college. That speaks volumes about Shumpert as a person because it’s impossible to accomplish something like that without being disciplined, motivated and focused.
Nobody ever has doubted Shumpert’s athletic ability. He has so much of what you want in a receiver from a physical standpoint, most notably size — he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds — and blazing speed. He reportedly shined at Iowa’s Pro Day in late March, running the 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.36 seconds and recording a vertical leap of 40 inches.
So you can see why the Bears would take a chance on Shumpert. He also showed an ability and a willingness to block as a Hawkeye and to play hard on special teams.
Shumpert didn’t achieve the same level of stardom as his friend and fellow St. Louis native and high school classmate Christian Kirksey had as a Hawkeye. Kirksey started his last 38 games at linebacker for Iowa and was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the third-round of the NFL draft.
He and Shumpert were in the same 2010 recruiting class and you could argue that Shumpert came to Iowa with more recruiting hype.
You also could argue that Shumpert, who only started four games as a Hawkeye, failed to live up to the hype if you base it solely on statistics. But I beg to differ when you look at what really matters.