The Steelers seem to love football bloodlines, and there could be an early 2024 connection for the team to look into already. 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. Partially, by the fact that he simply did not play from 2019 to 2021. Twice he was supposed 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, this past portal season, it would have been to Purdue to play for Ryan Walters. Yet, the NCAA denied him immediate eligibility the first time and rejected his hardship waiver this time around.
The hardship waiver was based on the fact that Stephens stayed behind to help his mother, who had fallen ill during the three years he did not play. At Penn State, his degree progress was not far enough along, 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 on 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 told me to come out there, and I got an offer to join. But things didn’t work out there. The NCAA decided to give me 2020 back, but wouldn’t give me any other year back. I thought they would be more lenient on 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 is all but certain that the Steelers have at least heard about Stephens given their proximity to West Liberty. He put up 8 interceptions a year ago and is firmly on the radar of the NFL 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 put up another strong season and put himself on the map of NFL teams solidly. You can classify him as a sleeper right now. That seems about right, but he could have opportunities throughout the NFL Draft process on top of his game this fall to build up that reputation he wants. After transferring back down to the D-II level, there’s a lot that Stephens hopes to prove. He already ran a 4.39 40-yard dash, and that athleticism has him on the range of scouts.
“I’m trying to showcase who I am and what I can be,” Stephens said. “Last year, I felt smarter on the field. You know, playing off and reading receivers. I feel like I can play in the slot or outside. And knowing situations, like down and distance, redzone, and all of that, it helped me. This year, I’m looking to be dominant. There’s no missed tackles or anything else. No touchdowns allowed. You know, making tackles on special teams, just doing stuff that’s gonna separate me. Scoring on kick return, punt return, that’s my plan. I want to be all over the place. 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 watch him at different points while at West Liberty. The Steelers, the closest team to him, came to his final regular season game against Frostburg State. That interest is picking up, and consistency with two years over him is what Stephens hopes he can do to prove what he can do.
However, part of what pushes Stephens outside of his motivation is the football bloodlines he comes from. He attended his younger cousin, Joey Porter Jr.’s, draft party. The cousins competed against one another growing up in every facet of football and sports. Stephens watched Porter Jr’s stock shoot up and now that he’s in the NFL, there is a model for him to follow.
“The past two years have been amazing, 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 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 great. He’s doing a phenomenal job and it’s really helping me a lot just to be around him for his process of making it to the NFL. The last two years, being around him, it’s a journey and it’s been inspriational.”
Stephens is s 5-foot-10 and around 180 pounds, so the frame is pretty solid. If he puts up another strong season, would it really be that surprising to see him head to a place like the Senior Bowl? Probably not, and Stephens has the ability to check off all the boxes when it comes to doubts. For any small school sleepers right now, they have to focus on building up the tape.
Stephens has done that once, now he must do it again. He played for a team that asked him to do a lot of different things on the back end, but that is training him to be a sleeper that could hear his name called next year. With all the trials he’s experienced, Stephens now has a chip on his shoulder to prove everyone wrong.