The Steelers seem to love football bloodlines, and there could be a connection in early 2024 that the team can already look into. Meet Ferris State cornerback Shon Stephens, who has a connection to Pittsburgh. He is the cousin of rookie Steelers cornerback Joey Porter Jr.
Stephens has had a whirlwind NCAA career. Part of the fact that he simply didn’t play from 2019 to 2021. Twice he had to transfer to the FBS level, both to Power 5 teams. First, it would have been to Penn State in 2021 as a walk-on. Then, the last portal season, it would have been to Purdue to play for Ryan Walters. Still, the NCAA denied him immediate eligibility the first time and rejected his hardship waiver this time.
The dismissal was based on Stephens staying back to help his mother, who had become ill during the three years he did not play. At Penn State, his degree progress wasn’t far enough either, but he graduated in 2022 from West Liberty. Hoping to gain the extra year of eligibility, Stephens hoped the NCAA would be more lenient with his situation, but they were not.
“I went back to help my mom because she was going through a time where none of us knew if she was going to make it,” Stephens said. “And after that, in July, I went to a Penn State camp, my uncle Joey asked me to come out there and I got an offer to attend. But things didn’t work out there. The NCAA decided to give me back 2020, but wanted don’t give me another year back. I thought they were going to be more lenient with my situation, but they just weren’t. It is what it is,”
Stephens was a first-team All-American at the Division II level with West Liberty, just outside of Wheeling, West Virginia. It’s almost certain that the Steelers have at least heard of Stephens because of their proximity to West Liberty. He had 8 interceptions a year ago and is firmly on the NFL’s radar as a result of his play.
Now he transferred to Ferris State in Michigan after receiving a call from head coach Tony Annese. Stephens hopes to deliver another strong season and establish himself firmly on NFL teams. You can classify him as a sleeper right now. That seems to be true, but he could have opportunities throughout the NFL Draft process on top of his game this fall to build the reputation he wants. After moving back to the D-II level, there is a lot Stephens hopes to prove. He already ran a 4.39 40-yard dash, and that athleticism has him on the ranks of scouts.
“I’m trying to show who I am and what I can be,” Stephens said. “Last year I felt smarter on the pitch. You know, play and read receivers. I feel like I can play in the castle or outside. And knowing situations, like down and distance, redzone and all that, that helped me. This year I’m looking to be dominant. There are no missed tackles or anything. No touchdowns allowed. You know, making tackles on special teams, just making things that will pick me apart. Scoring on kick returns, punt returns, that’s my plan. I want to be all over it. NFL scouts, I want to show them who I am.”
That dominance last year earned Stephens some NFL looks. The Eagles, Ravens, Lions and Seahawks came to see him at various times while in West Liberty. The Steelers, the team closest to him, came to his final regular season game against Frostburg State. That interest is picking up, and consistency with two years on him is what Stephens hopes he can do to prove what he can do.
But part of what pushes Stephens beyond his motivation is the football bloodlines he comes from. He attended his younger cousin, Joey Porter Jr.’s, draft party. The cousins competed against each other growing up in all facets of football and sports. Stephens watched Porter Jr.’s stock rise, and now that he’s in the NFL, there’s a model for him to follow.
“The last two years have been great, but he’s just been someone I look up to, even though he’s my younger cousin,” Stephens said. “Football has been around me since the third or fourth grade. I would compete against him (Porter Jr.), Jacob (Joey’s brother) and everyone else. Ever since I got back into football, I’ve looked up to him. It’s been fantastic. He’s doing a phenomenal job and it really helps me a lot just to be around him in his process of making it to the NFL. The last two years, being around him, it’s been a journey and it’s been inspiring.”
Stephens is 5-foot-10 and weighs about 180 pounds, so the frame is pretty solid. If he puts up another strong season, would it really be that surprising to see him go to a place like the Senior Bowl? Probably not, and Stephens has the ability to tick all the boxes when it comes to doubt. For all little school sleepers right now, they need to focus on building the bond.
Stephens has done it once, now he has to do it again. He played for a team that asked him to do a lot of different things on the back end, but it’s training him to be a sleeper who could hear his name called next year. With all the trials he has experienced, Stephens now has a chip on his shoulder to prove everyone wrong.