Malcolm Sheppard still remembers his mother warning her two boys to put the makeshift bow and arrows away.
Every day he has to live with the reminder of her worst fear coming true — an arrow ending up in one of her son's eyes. It was Malcolm's.
The childhood accident left him 80 percent blind in his left eye. Yet the Titans defensive lineman never let it slow him down. Not then, and not now.
"If I played a position like quarterback or linebacker, maybe it would affect me more," Sheppard said. "But I never wanted to use it as an excuse, and it's not even a weakness in any way. I am so used to it I have been doing it for so long. To me, it's no big deal, really."
A second-year pro from Arkansas, Sheppard is one of the most unheralded and soft-spoken Titans. He made the team after an impressive training camp, and had two tackles in the season opener against the Jaguars. It was his fifth NFL game.
The Titans like Sheppard's athleticism, work ethic and versatility — the 6-foot-2, 289-pounder can play end and tackle. Although his opportunities could decrease as other linemen recover from injuries, Sheppard has proven he won't go down without a fight.
"Regardless of what Malcolm's been through, there is no substitution for hard work," Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. "That is what I have always appreciated about him. It is all about working — it is not talking — and doing the job. And every day, no matter what we ask him to do, he comes out here and does it 100 miles per hour. In this day and time it is hard to find people like that. But that's how Malcolm has always been."
Rocker, who is in his first year with the Titans, recruited Sheppard to Arkansas. He quickly found out the accident that left Sheppard nearly blind in his left eye wasn't going to keep him from losing his NFL vision.
There were some initial fears following the accident, however.
Sheppard was 7 when he was playing in the backyard with his 10-year-old brother, who'd made the bow and arrow out of a pair of chopsticks and fishing line. Evelyn Sheppard had warned them to stop, but one of the arrows ended up in Sheppard's left eye.
"It stayed in," he said of the arrow. "My brother actually pulled it out."
Doctors discussed removing the eye, but his mom told them she wanted him to keep it and whatever vision was left in it. He had two surgeries.
Sheppard became a standout player in high school in Bainbridge, Ga., and went on to play in 51 games at Arkansas, where he was a two-time All-SEC performer.
He once suffered from headaches, but he said he has no problems now.
"When I first started playing ball it was weird playing on the right side because I lost vision on my left eye," he said. "But I have been doing it so long it doesn't really affect me."
His teammates marvel at his play, regardless of his vision issues.
"He reminds me of (former Titan) Kyle Vanden Bosch a little but because of the way he plays," guard Leroy Harris said. "You know exactly what you are going to get when you are going against him — he is going to go full-throttle, straight ahead."
Defensive lineman Jason Jones said Sheppard hasn't told him about the childhood accident, but his work ethic speaks volumes.
"I came in here on a Sunday during the preseason and he was lifting weights in the dark, before the weight staff got here," Jones said. "You can tell he's one of those guys who has had to work for everything he's got. … The way he plays the game it is like he has two eyes, you'd never know. He doesn't let that stop him.''
If not for a football scholarship, Sheppard said he would have gone into the military. His dad is a 19-year Army veteran currently stationed in Afghanistan. His brother, who's in the Navy, just returned from Japan.
"I talk to my dad on a regular basis, and he just tells me to go out and have fun, to keep working and enjoy the opportunity," Sheppard said. "I am just enjoying being here and trying to make the most of it."