Laying in a hotel bed Friday night before the Owls’ game against Connecticut, Brandon Shippen’s Temple career replayed through his head.
The night before walking through the tunnel at Lincoln Financial Field one last time, the former running back at Norristown Area High School remembered his time at defensive back during his freshman and sophomore seasons, his switch to wide receiver in 2014 and all the games he played for the Owls at their home field.
In the senior wide receiver’s final home game of his college career, Shippen and the Owls beat the Huskies 27-3 to advance to the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural conference championship game Dec. 5 against Houston.
“Coach [Matt] Rhule has tested me since I got here because he saw the potential,” Shippen said. “Every year, I just took a step. One more step, one more step and that’s where we’re at today. … My sophomore year at defensive back, special teams, corner. Moving to receiver I did OK last year. Then now, this year, 10-2 going to a conference championship game.”
Shippen caught a career-high four catches for 45 yards in Saturday’s win against the Huskies.
The performance followed the Owls’ 31-12 win against Memphis when Shippen separated his shoulder on a 49-yard catch in the second quarter and went back into the game.
Two years after switching from defensive back to wide receiver, he has 14 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown along with five carries for 28 yards. Shippen has added nine tackles on special teams.
“He’s been unselfish, he’s blocked, he’s done so many things,” Rhule said. “So to separate his shoulder last week, go back in the game and play this week, it’s a real credit to who Brandon is.”
The wideout and the rest of the senior class have played a vital role in Temple’s improvement throughout Rhule’s three years with the Owls.
In 2013, Rhule’s first year as coach, the team went 2-10. Last year, the Owls improved to 6-6.
This year, Shippen and Temple have already tied the program record of 10 wins with a matchup with Houston in the conference championship Saturday and a potential bowl game looming.
“We worked our butts off,” Shippen said. “Going 2-10, 6-6, we just saw our team progression, what we could be. One play, another play, last-second losses, you just knew something special was about to come.”
During the 2015 season, the Owls have achieved several historic milestones.
They beat Penn State for the first time in 74 years. They started 7-0 for the first time in program history. They were ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since 1979.
This success has come two years after Shippen and the rest of the senior class went 2-10 as sophomores.
“I don’t think too many programs in the country can do that,” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “You have to give credit to us. All these seniors just stuck it out. Times were tough and [we] just really fought through it and just kept buying in and buying in and here’s our reward.”
Throughout his Temple career, Shippen has 26 receptions for 355 yards and two touchdowns. On defense and special teams, he has 28 career tackles and a forced fumble.
For Thanksgiving, Shippen traveled home to Norristown, where he saw the impact he has had.
“I went home with my grandmom and my mother and we were just talking about the game and my career and stuff like that,” Shippen said. “I got little high schoolers that look up to me, and I talk to them on Twitter and stuff like that. So it’s a definitely fun to talk to people from back home.”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com.