Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard participates in training activities at the team's...

Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard participates in training activities at the team's practice facility on July 30 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

Sterling Shepard has been where Aaron Rodgers is right now, and though he certainly remembers the grueling physical process of recovering from a torn Achilles, he also doesn’t downplay the mental toil of returning from one of the most unpredictable injuries in professional sports.

“At that point in my career, it’s, ‘Will I be the same player if I want to come back?’ ” Shepard said Wednesday, reflecting on the injury he sustained in Week 15 of the 2021 season, and one that didn’t see him return to action for about eight months. “It’s not an easy one, for sure. There’s a lot of dark times during that time.”

When he finally did take off the no-contact jersey the summer of 2022, he burned it.

By wide receiver standards, Shepard wasn’t exactly young when he hurt himself — 28 at the time — but that has to count doubly for Rodgers, who at 39, will have a near impossibly steep hill to climb. He’ll be 40 in December.

One thing is certain: Those around Rodgers don’t think he’s ready to call it a career. Eli Manning said as much during his interview on “The Pat McAfee Show” Wednesday, and Robert Saleh echoed it during his news conference the same day.

“I’d be shocked if this is the way he’s going to go out,” Saleh told reporters. “At the same time, he’s working through a whole lot of headspace — things he needs to deal with. That’ll be the last thing I talk to him about.”

That jibes with Shepard’s experience. When asked if the mental or physical part was the hardest, he replied, simply, “Both.” The difference is, though, that Shepard still had a significant swath of his career ahead of him, while Rodgers, signed for three years with the Jets, has only internal motivation to push him. He’s reached the pinnacle of the sport, with nothing left to prove.

“It’s hard to be on your feet but you’ve always got to attack every day,” Shepard said. “You’re trying to get 1% better every day and that was my mindset going into it. You’ve got to know there’s light at the end of the tunnel. You’ve got to approach every day with the right mindset.”

For Shepard, faith got him through.

“I’m a big believer,” he said. “I’m big in my faith. So I just leave all my worries to God and let everything else take care of itself. What I can do is what I can do. That was day by day — trying to do my best and trying to get a little bit better and I was able to do that.”

It’s more or less been a success. Shepard has recovered, but he still just played three games in the 2022 season due to an ACL injury; before that, he had averaged 11.8 yards per catch over three games, with a touchdown. He empathizes with Rodgers, and points out that sports medicine continues to improve and refine — to the point where some previously career-ending injuries are treated and managed so that full, or near-full recovery, is possible.

“That gives you a little bit of hope,” he said. “It’s tough for anybody — older, younger, it’s still tough . . .

“You just feel bad for anybody that gets hurt. It’s not stuff you want to see but it’s part of the game.”




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