By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- Daniel Eppard was a late bloomer.
The Sherando senior didn't play football, like so many others, when he was younger. He only started playing as a freshman, but three years later the fullback/linebacker is certainly making up for lost time.
"He's a late bloomer physically," Sherando coach Bill Hall said. "His physical development every year has been incremental. Maturity-wise, he's really matured into the man that he is right now, and I think that's a credit to him."
Eppard said his father played football in high school, so he decided to give it a shot his freshman year and he hasn't regretted it.
Eppard said he played baseball before high school, but later gave up baseball to focus on football.
"I really like hitting people," Eppard said of playing football. "I just enjoy the physicality and the amount of focus and training that it requires."
In his freshman season on the JV team, Eppard said he didn't get a lot of playing time because he wasn't as fast or as big as he is now.
With each season Eppard has become stronger and faster, and last year he was moved up to the varsity team.
Eppard said it was a thrill just to walk down the steps with his teammates on Friday nights.
"Coming out under the lights -- it's just a great experience," Eppard said. "Since I've been here at Sherando, every time you come down those steps, the music, everybody goes crazy -- it gives me goosebumps. It just gets you so hyped.
"It's ridiculous. It's just like an unthinkable feeling, like nothing can compare to that."
Eppard had a strong season last year playing at linebacker for the Warriors, and Hall said he knew Eppard would be a solid player for the squad this season, but just how good was up to Eppard.
"We knew if he had the right practice mentality he could realize his potential, and that would be great things for him and would be even better for us," Hall said.
Hall said he really saw a change in Eppard toward the end of the regular season and his play has went up another level.
"He really embraced that whole thing about practice mentality," Hall said. "His practice mentality went to another level and his play corresponded to that."
Eppard has had another strong season for the Warriors on defense.
He is currently second on the team in tackles with 87, including 35 solo tackles and 20 tackles for loss. Eppard has recorded 1.5 sacks this season and has two interceptions.
"Playing linebacker is fun," Eppard said. "You play fast. You get to hit people. I just love it. It's like the core of the defense. You get to pound teams and shut teams down. I just think that's real fun for me."
Eppard is part of a very strong linebacking unit with fellow seniors Joe Daley and George Aston. The trio have combined for 335 tackles, 5.5 sacks and seven interceptions.
Maybe more importantly, the trio have started together for the last two seasons and have formed a strong bond.
"I've been friends with them since freshman year, and those guys are my brothers," Eppard said. "We just have such a close bond. I trust those guys."
Eppard has played at fullback all season, and in the playoffs his role within the offense began to change.
The Warriors began using Eppard more as a runner and as a receiver, and it paid big dividends in the first couple rounds of the playoffs.
In the first two rounds of the playoffs, Eppard had four touchdown receptions.He has made nine catches for 267 yards in the playoffs. In a playoff victory against Courtland, Eppard had 93 yards rushing on just four carries.
For the season, Eppard has 127 yards rushing, and 14 receptions for 370 yards receiving.
"Coach Hall told me at the beginning of the season that if I worked hard and mastered fullback, he said he would make me a bigger part of the offense in terms of catching and running the ball," Eppard said. "In week eight or nine, he said I'm incorporating you more in the offense."
Although Eppard said he's enjoyed getting to carry the ball or making some big catches here or there, he said he would be just fine blocking as well as long as the team wins.
Sherando will play Dinwiddie in the Class 4A state final on Saturday, and for Eppard and his teammates it's a chance for a storybook ending to their high school careers.
"We've been working hard for this since freshman year, and now it's starting to pay off," Eppard said. "And it's just great to see that happening."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd