MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

September 18, 2013

OU wide receiver gets started with program

NORMAN – When Oklahoma’s football players arrive at their lockers each game day, everything is perfectly laid out. Uniform, pads, gloves, tape – anything they’ll need is right there in a specific spot.

The only thing that changes from week to week is the program that is also perfectly placed in each locker. Some peruse it to kill some nervousness. Others throw it in their bag as a keepsake.

When Sooners receiver Sterling Shepard arrived at his last Saturday morning and saw it, he knew it was good omen. There on the cover were intertwining images of himself and his father, the late Derrick Shepard.

“I told myself that this is me and my dad’s day … It was just going to be a special day. I was going to try to keep pushing and get open,” Shepard said.

He did, and new Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell kept finding him. By the time the 14th-ranked Sooners’ 50-21 victory over Tulsa was complete, Shepard had established single-game career highs in catches (eight), receiving yards (123) and touchdowns (two).

It was the kind of performance the Sooner offense needed to have. There were a lot of reasons for it. Bell, obviously, threw the ball better than Trevor Knight did in the first two games.

But the receivers played better as well. There were no drops, and the passing game looked like the well-oiled machine it was supposed to be.

The fact that it hadn’t in the first two games was irritating to Shepard. The sophomore, who had 45 receptions as a freshman, believed this was going to be a breakout season. Three catches for 23 yards in the first two games was not up to par.

“It was getting underneath my skin a little bit. It has happened to me before in my life,” Shepard said. “With those things, you just have to keep pushing and keep going and it will come to you. It did.”

It was something receivers coach Jay Norvell talked to the entire receivers corp about in the days leading up to the game. It was a motivated group going into the Tulsa game.

But every OU player and coach saw the image on the front of the program. If there was ever a day the stars were aligning for Shepard, last Saturday was it.

“You can’t help but understand what that means to the kid. We knew he was highly motivated to play well. I think he would’ve been if his dad wasn’t on the cover,” Norvell said. “You wanted him to play well, and he responded. I think everyone felt good about that – his teammates, the coaches, everybody. It’s pretty special to think he’s wearing his dad’s number and honoring him that way. It was pretty cool.”

And it was invigorating for an offense that needed to show it could throw the ball.

Shepard needs to be a big part of the Sooners offense this season. Senior Jalen Saunders is the wide receiver who has proven he can terrorize secondaries. It leaves many opportunities wide open for someone else.

In one highly motivated game, Shepard showed what he can do under those circumstances.

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