Cheri Shepard remembered Shepard’s late father, Derrick, returning punts and taking big hits as a result. She didn’t want the same for her son.
He’s just too good back there for the Sooners’ pass up.
“We’re here to score points however we can,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “If it happens on special teams, I’m fine with it. If it happens on defense, nobody is happier than I am.
At the end of the day, he’s a weapon for us on offense. He’s a weapon on that side of the ball as a punt returner, and we need to use him.”
In his first punt-return action since high school, Shepard averaged 17.5 yards per punt – twice shifting field position for the Sooners. Shepard look smooth as a punt returner, twice finding the edge and even forced Louisiana Tech to punt out of bounds twice in the first half.
Shepard’s second punt return forced Louisiana Tech to avoid any other returns. The Bulldogs punted seven times but only two were returned.
“It’s exciting being back there again,” Shepard said. “… Just got some of the first-game jitters out, and now I'm ready to roll.”
With Shepard as the punt returner, Oklahoma has a dynamic talent, one who has an extra facet than former returner Jalen Saunders, Heupel said.
Instead, Heupel more equated Shepard’s skill set to J.T. Thatcher, who played on the 2000 National Championship team. What made Thatcher special was his strength, something Shepard also possesses.
“He has some substance to run through some things,” Heupel said.
Shepard has nearly 40 pounds on Saunders, who averaged more than 15 yards per punt return and scored three touchdowns in his final two years at Oklahoma.
That alone makes Shepard, who has great speed in his own right, a skilled talent as a punt return, even if it’s a little against what his mom wants.
“I'm not worried about it,” Shepard said. “That's the name of the game. You're gonna get hit, but I just wanna help the team anyway I can.”