Alabama offensive lineman Austin Shepherd recruited several teammates, including quarterback Jacob Coker to join him Sunday afternoon at “Jocks and Locks,” held at the Sigma Nu fraternity house. All proceeds benefit The Austin Shepherd Foundation (“ASF”).
Shepherd met Jenna King when he was a freshman at Alabama and they began dating the next year. As they got to know each other, King shared a lot about losing her big brother Jon to bone cancer when he was 24 years old. Jenna was only nine when Jon passed away, and his treatments at Children’s Hospital of Alabama was all she knew up until that time.
After she and Shepherd began dating, Jenna took him to Children’s Hospital to visit patients. It had such a profound effect on Shepherd he wanted to start a foundation to benefit sick children and their families. The ASF was officially launched on the 11-year anniversary of Jon’s death, October 18, 2012.
Every month Shepherd visits the hospital and shares with patients, signing autographs, giving out footballs and other Alabama items. Anything he can do to take their mind off of all they are going through, at least for a little while. He always tries to recruit other players to go with him. In the past two years there are several who have made the hour drive to Birmingham. Among them: AJ McCarron, Vinnie Sunseri, and Cade Foster.
Jenna and Austin wanted to raise money for the foundation’s “Beads of Courage” program. They brain-stormed and asked friends for ideas. Football players getting whichever hairstyle the highest bidder chose seemed like a good idea, and “Jocks and Locks” was born. Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and Sigma Nu fraternity joined ASF as co-sponsors. Bob’s Victory Grille donated food and stylists from SportClips provided haircuts.
Children undergoing treatment receive a different bead for each procedure they go through. Volunteer quilters make houndstooth drawstring bags and beads are added to the bags, along with colorful notecards containing inspirational messages of hope to help them get through the tough times.
“Most children have accumulated enough beads to line a football field,” Jenna said, “because they’ve had so many different procedures during the course of their treatment.”
Many patients make necklaces or bracelets and a lot of them attended the fundraiser displaying some of their beads. A few even assisted with player haircuts.
First on the auction block for the day was none other than Shepherd himself. He raised a total of $1,950 for his beard trimming and haircut. Some other players who agreed to step up for the cause were Jacob Coker, Brian Vogler, Ryan Kelly, Corey McCarron, Bradley Bozeman, and Denzel Devall. The auctioned haircuts raised more than $17,000 for the foundation. The styles chosen by the bidders ranged from simple to outlandish.
“We hope this becomes an annual event, even after I graduate and move on to the pros,” Shepherd said. “I hope to start an affiliate of the foundation in whichever NFL franchise city I play for.”
This was the first “Jocks and Locks” event and Austin said the long-range plan is to have future generations of Crimson Tide players keep the tradition alive at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham with monthly visits, and the Beads of Courage program.