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Boomer Bio: Sterling Shepard
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Inside Look At OU's Newest Rising Star
Sterling Shepard is used to being overshadowed.
In high school, it was his teammate Barry Sanders who earned most of the headlines and national acclaim while Shepard did his work in the background.
Even after he signed with Oklahoma, it was future teammates Trey Metoyer and Durron Neal who were expected to be the freshmen to come in and be impact players right away. In the meantime, Shepard simply went about his business and continued to work.
That work is paying off for Shepard sooner than later, as he has become a vital part of the OU offense. After his performance against Kansas State, his time as a non-marquee contributor is probably over.
“He’s a guy that as a freshman plays at a different level,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. “He’s competitive, he’s fast, he’s strong. He does a lot of things, and he’s only going to continue to get better.”
The 5-foot-10, 188-pound Shepard caught a career-high seven catches for 108 yards in the K-State game, a disappointing 24-19 loss. That effort included a touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter that helped keep the Sooners in the game.
“It felt great, but like I said, if you don’t come out with a ‘W,’ then there is no point in it,” said Shepard. “I was happy to get in there my first time and hopefully there is plenty more to come.”
In a short period of time, Shepard has become a fan favorite. Every time he makes a play at Memorial Stadium, he gets one of the loudest ovations from the home faithful. It could be the fact that he’s a local kid who stayed home or his willingness to take the big hit in order to make a catch. That was the case on his first collegiate reception against Florida A&M.
“Your adrenaline is pumping so fast, so you can’t feel it, really,” said Shepard. "Everybody told me when I got to the sideline, ‘You got popped a little bit,' but I didn’t really realize it.”
Coming out of high school, Shepard had offers from several of the top programs around the country, including Clemson, Kansas State, Missouri, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State.
But it was Sanders who was featured on ESPN and had stories written about him when Alabama coach Nick Saban came to town to pay him a visit. And when Sanders waited until after his senior season to choose Stanford, he was the talk of the recruiting world.
Shepard, who helped lead Heritage Hall to the 3A state championship as a junior when Sanders was injured, quietly accepted the offer from Oklahoma before his senior season began. To him, there was no doubt where he wanted to play ball.
“The coaches want to win at all times,” said Shepard at the time.
“They really do coach you, and you see the guys who have come out of there, especially at my position — they’ve all done great things. So I just thought it was the place for me because a lot of my family’s been there.”
For fans who grew up following the Sooners, watching Shepard the first few weeks of the season may seem like deja vu. His father, Derrick, played for Oklahoma in the mid-1980s under coach Barry Switzer.
Not only did his late father play for the Sooners, but so did his uncles, Woodie and Darrell.
Most players who have successful family members are prodded or pushed to follow in their father’s footsteps. That was not the case for Shepard. He was very young when his dad died of a heart attack in 1999 while working as an assistant football coach at the University of Wyoming.
Shepard was left with the memories of others when it came to his father’s football exploits. The elder Shepard was not only a member of the 1985 national championship team but also played five years in the NFL, where he earned a Super Bowl ring with the Washington Redskins.
Those who have seen them both play have seen glimpses of the elder Shepard in the younger.
When Shepard scored his first TD of the season against K-State, it was his father who was on his mind.
“I write ‘RPDShep’ on my tape, so it’s for my dad,” said Shepard. “A lot of stuff was running through my head, so I didn’t have time to kneel down and stuff. Next time, hopefully I’ll be calm about it.”
While Shepard will be compared to his father for the rest of his life, the player he most reminds Oklahoma coaches and fans of is All-American receiver Ryan Broyles. Not just because of his physical stature but also the way he uses his quickness to avoid would-be tacklers in the open field. He also has incredibly sure hands for a true freshman.
“He’s a special player,” said Stoops.
And he’s only just begun to tap into some amazing potential.
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the OU-Texas Preview issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)