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Kennesaw State quarterback Xavier Shepherd was an FCS All-American after taking over for Jonathan Murphy.

KENNESAW — Heading into last season, Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon had Jonathan Murphy and Xavier Shepherd listed as quarterbacks No. 1 and 1A.

Murphy started the season as the primary QB, but he was injured early in the year. Shepherd then took over and never looked back.

Shepherd finished the season with 1,341 passing yards and 15 touchdowns, along with 1,016 rushing yards and a Football Championship Subdivision-best 23 rushing touchdowns. He was named a first-team FCS all-American by STATS and HERO Sports, and a third-team all-American by The Associated Press.

Murphy stepped in for an injured Shepherd in the second round of the FCS playoffs against East Tennessee State, where he threw for 125 yards and ran for 164 yards and accounted for four touchdowns. He finished the year throwing for 265 yards and three touchdowns while running for 359 yards and four scores.

Heading into the final week of spring practice, Bohannon said both players continue to show they are ready to lead the team.

“It’s pretty good competition right now,” Bohannon said. “We’re not labeling anything right now. They’re out here competing every day and making each other better. The competition has been good. They’ve both done some really good things this spring. They both have to do a better job of taking care of the ball, but there’s been some positive competition.”

As for the linebacker position, Bohannon was not quite as complimentary.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” he said.

The Owls are still working to replace leading tackler Evan Thompson, along with Xavier Reddick, Chance Bates and Welton Spottsville, the last of whom entered the transfer portal in February.

One player likely to fill a hole at the position is Garland Benyard. The rising sophomore worked his way onto the field midway through the season and did not come off the rest of the year. He finished the year with 35 tackles, including two tackles for loss.

Bohannon said the Owls have stayed relatively healthy, with only about 12 red jerseys — which signify an injured player — at practice Wednesday afternoon.

“(Our health) is probably not too bad considering what spring normally is,” Bohannon said. “A few guys got banged up today, but relatively speaking, considering a lot of springs we’ve had here, it’s not bad.”

With just three more practices before the annual spring game April 15 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, Bohannon said he is looking for toughness from his team.

“They’re all a little beat-up, a little bit tired,” Bohannon said. “I want to see them go fight the fight, and I want to see them go grind through their aches and pains and go do their job. I know this sounds cliché, but it’s just simply playing with some effort, some attitude and some toughness.”

Effort, attitude and toughness is the program’s motto — E.A.T. — and the winners of the annual spring game will get to do just that, and do it well. Dinner is on the line for the winner of next week’s game, and while the menu for the winning team is still being finalized, the loser’s menu has become a tradition.

“I don’t know exactly what the winner’s (meal) is,” Bohannon said, “but I can tell you, for the losers, it’s hot dogs and water, and probably some bland baked beans.”

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