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The Story of Naz-T Deac

Noel Shepherd shared the story behind the dancing man at Deacon basketball games

For Noel Shepherd, being a Wake Forest fan came naturally, as it ran in the family with his dad being a Baptist minister and a member of the first Board of Trustees after the university’s split with the Baptist Association.

And along with that love of Wake Forest came a love of hip hop and rap music, and a love of dancing.

Present Day

Before diving into his past though, let’s take a look at his present. He is currently the Director of Engagement and Development for the Deacon Club.

“We're a family, and that’s one of the things that we always stress. We don’t just get together at games, we keep in touch with each other in other ways anytime we can get groups together. I concentrate on that, and recruiting new Deacon Club members.”

“Our biggest job is to concentrate on continuing to provide for the student athletes to be able to compete at the level they need to in the ACC. We have a smaller alumni base and a smaller fan base than most of the bigger schools, so we have to rely a lot more on our donors. Fortunately we have very wonderful and generous people at Wake Forest.”

“Now we provide a lot more on the nutrition side of things because that has become increasingly important for our student athletes. As a result we have to raise more money because that’s the only way we can do it.”

“Everybody focuses on football and basketball, but I think the typical Wake Forest fan fortunately is more involved and keeps up with a lot of different sports because there’s a lot of pride there. I hope that anybody who has any kind of pride in Wake Forest would join the Deacon Club and do whatever they can to participate in supporting our athletes.”

“It gives you that great family atmosphere and you feel closer to the programs and feel more involved.”

“It’s a dream job for me because I have been a Wake Forest fan my whole life and went to school here, and now I actually get the chance to make a difference for kids who get to come here and get a degree from one of the top schools in the country. To me that means everything that I can somehow help and get people to know Wake Forest and the Wake Forest community better.”

The Naz-T Deac Days

Where did the name “Naz-T Deac” come from?

"In high school and college I loved music and I have a little bit of a creative side. I used to write songs growing up. When I got to high school hip hop and rap went mainstream. For a class project at Wake Forest I wrote a bunch of raps, even one about Biscuitville’s iced tea [bursts out laughing]. And at the time the rapper Ice-T was very popular. So I guess because my name, Noel, started with an N somebody came up with a play on Ice-T and it was Naz-T. So my friends would call me “Naz-T” all the time, and when I started dancing I started picking up the “Deac” to go with the Naz-T to make sure everybody knew who I was affiliated with. I haven’t actually danced at a game in five years, but people to this day will still walk up to me and say ‘Naz-T’ and I still react to it.”

Why start dancing at basketball games, and why choose Jump Around as the music?

“Nothing was planned. When Skip Prosser and his staff came here they brought a lot of excitement and everybody remembers the change in the atmosphere during that time. There was dance music, high energy stuff going on, the students were doing the Tie-Dye thing and the student section was going crazy which made everybody else crazy and at that time the atmosphere was getting to be pretty electric.”

“Josh Howard’s senior year I was wearing my tie-dye and my tie-dye bucket hat, and during the timeouts we had what we call a “hot timeout” when Wake Forest goes on a run and the other team has to call a timeout to stop the momentum. So to keep up the energy during those timeouts they would constantly play Zombie Nation which you can’t dance to-all you can do is just jump up and down. But the other one that was real prevalent was Jump Around, and that one you can dance to.”

“So we were at a game and I had a female friend with me. I sat in the corner behind the Wake bench. That music came on and everybody was trying to keep up the energy, so just to embarrass her I started doing some little dance moves in my seat. So the next game I started dancing again. A few people would notice and say ‘Hey! What you got today?’ So I had to come up with a different dance move every time.”

“After a while it just grew and grew and grew. So one time somebody had to get out of our row so I moved out onto the stairs, so more people started noticing, a few more people each game. Then we got the video board so everybody saw, and the greatest thing was when kids would come up and join me. But after a while the aisle got too crowded, so I would run down bottom behind the basket so all the kids could come and join me.”

“It was very natural and just a lot of fun. I remember after a while Skip Prosser told me that he thought it added to the atmosphere. When he told me that I had to keep doing it. I’m happy to do anything I can to help.”

Where did your routine come from?

“When the kids started dancing with me I wanted to do something that was simple and funny so that they could pick it up and dance along with me. I’m not a great dancer by any means, but I’ve got enough rhythm where I can hold it together. Doing simple things like the sprinkler, the lawnmower, the snake, the shopping cart, shooting the shotgun, the fishing rod, and then throw in a particular popular dance that was taking off at that time. Anything that was easy for the kids to do. The funniest thing is like when I’d be out at a restaurant and a kid would come up to me and do the sprinkler. That was a big thrill for me, it was a good time.”

Did you have a favorite guest or a process for choosing who your guest was going to be the times you had a guest dancing with you on the court?

Alphonso Smith came to me after he had just graduated in December after football season and said ‘I’ve always wanted to get up there and dance with you, but I knew that I couldn’t because I was on the football team. Can I come back and dance with you after I leave?’ And I said ‘You don’t have to wait until you leave. I’ll bet we can do it right now.’ So I told the marketing department and they loved it because everybody loves Alphonso Smith. So arranged for me to just run out on the court and then call Alphonso out. The funny thing was I had an extra bucket hat I gave to Alphonso so he wore that and a tie-dye neck tie he had bought. So he came out and he was hilarious. Alphonso said he knew all my moves and didn’t need to practice, and he’d just follow me. And when we went out there it looked like we had choreographed the whole thing even though he had no idea what I was gonna do next.”

Since you started dancing while Skip Prosser was coaching do you have a favorite memory involving Skip?

“It’s funny that you ask that. I got to know Skip really well and he became a true friend. Anybody that met Skip automatically became his friend, and he made you feel like you were top of the list. Every single person felt that way. But I definitely considered him a friend and got to know him really well.”

“We were watching a high school basketball game one time and he leaned over to me and said ‘Noel I don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate what you do for our basketball atmosphere. And I know you are sacrificing a lot to do this because there is no way you are going to get a date after people see you doing this.’ [laughter] And he said it with just this dry, deadpan Skip Prosser delivery, and at first I thought he was almost serious. And then I knew he was joking. It was one of the funniest things he’s ever said.”

Did you ever have a feeling that you were maybe serving as a distraction for opposing teams?

“I don't think an opposing team ever noticed because I was on the Wake side. But I will say that Chris Paul told me that Skip actually got on him in the huddle one time because he started looking over at me dancing during a timeout and Skip had to snap at him to get his attention again. And when he told me that he was laughing, but he said Skip snapped and yelled at him so it wasn't fun in the moment. So I was more of a distraction maybe to our guys instead of the other team.”

It’s been five years since you danced at a game. Had it just kind of run its course so you stopped?

“I think so. You know I had a lot of fun with it and I still get such great comments about it, but it gave me some great recognition with Deacon Club members before I even started working with them. So it helped me a lot adjust to working with the Deacon Club. I think it probably had run its course on a regular basis. If it was once a year now or for a special event that would be different. The way we did it was for that moment, and everything changes over time.”

Did anyone ever ask you to dance at a function outside of a Wake Forest basketball game?

“Good question. And yes. During that time I had a lot of Wake fans asking me if I could come dance at their kid’s birthday party. I danced at a wedding reception one time after the bride and groom had their dance-they were both big Wake Forest fans. Then they just popped Jump Around on and I came running out onto the dance floor and danced with the couple. There were probably six or seven times when I went and danced at functions outside of basketball games.”

“And I danced at a football games a couple of times. During one season EA Sports came out with the NCAA Football game, and I was one of the home screens for Wake Forest. I forget which year it was, but you can choose Wake as your home team and it pops up with a picture of me dancing at the football game while the game is loading. And I never got paid for it. [laughs] It was pretty cool to see it pop up playing it. Somebody else called me and told me I was on there, and so of course I had to buy it.”

“Then the year Carolina won the National Championship they had a clip of me in the One Shining Moment for that year, and every once in a while ESPN would throw in a shot of me dancing in the pregame intros.”

“The funniest thing anybody ever said about me on TV was Mike Gminski. They were coming back from commercial and were showing how they were making fresh pizza in the concession stands. Then they cut to a shot of me dancing in the aisle. And Mike Gminski said something like ‘Well I bet he doesn't miss many pizzas when they come around.’ OH MAN! OH MAN! [laughs] So I actually saw Mike after a game one time and I still had my bucket hat on and I said ‘Hey you remember me, pizza boy?’ And he actually started laughing because it was like a couple of games later that I saw him. I. thought it was hilarious and most people I know thought it was too.”

Noel is a great guy and couldn’t have been nicer in the interview. It’s hard to find anybody who loves the Deacs more than he does. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @naztdeac.