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Big play for Gators? Must be Sheppard

DB/punt returner Lito Sheppard makes the key interception again.

By DEBI JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000


GAINESIVILLE -- Lito Sheppard knows how to find the ball.

After an interception return for a touchdown during the Gators' win against Tennessee last week, Sheppard continued his streak of turning games around on Saturday.

The Gators led by a touchdown late in the second quarter, but Kentucky had the ball with a chance to tie the score before halftime. On the first play of the drive, Sheppard intercepted a Jared Lorenzen pass and returned it to the Kentucky 16. The interception sparked a two-minute span in which the Gators scored 14 points.

"Lito just knows how to turn the game around," fellow cornerback Keiwan Ratliff said. "He is always around the ball when big plays need to happen."

Coach Steve Spurrier has praised Sheppard's ability to go after and find the ball.

Two weeks ago against Middle Tennessee State, Sheppard found seams in kick coverage and returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown.

Sheppard's only punt return Saturday was for 45 yards. He began returning punts this season.

Versatility has made him a leader in the secondary.

"I just go out and try to do my best every game," Sheppard said. "Last year, I was nervous a lot, but this year my confidence level is high and continuing to get better."

Sheppard, known for making big plays at Jacksonville Raines High School, said he was looking to make a steady progression.

"I try to rate myself," he said. "I am just trying to progress from high school to college and get better."

It seems like the higher Sheppard's confidence gets, the higher his teammates' confidence gets.

"Lito got another good interception, just like he did last week," defensive end Kennard Ellis said. "That interception really swung the momentum our way."

Sheppard has three interceptions in four games.

Because of the run sparked by Sheppard's interception, the Gators led by 21 at halftime against the Wildcats.

"Fortunately with Lito's interception and then we got that fumble, we were able to get some points before the end of the half," Spurrier said.

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