But when it came to game time against Louisiana Tech, the two were struggling. No, it had nothing to do with their preparation for the game. They were good there.
However, what were they going to do when they reached the end zone? Because they absolutely believed they would be there a bunch.
Their solution? The sensei.
“Yeah, we kind of just came up with that at the last minute,” Shepard said. “We’re two guys who plan on being in the end zone a lot so we have to have something.
“We were thinking. I came up with the three smacks, and then Durron said we’re going to bow to each other. We’re keeping it simple with the sensei.”
As it has been since before the two were even on campus, Shepard and Neal worked together and leaned on each other to figure things out.
It’s nothing new. Neal, a four-star wide receiver from St. Louis De Smet Jesuit, had 35 catches for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns to go with 11 touchdowns and 716 yards on the ground.
Shepard, also a four-star prospect, had 73 receptions for 1,243 yards and 17 touchdowns, while rushing for 303 yards and eight scores.
They were the ringleaders of what looked to be a legendary OU wide receivers class. The debate raged on about who would be better between Shepard and Neal.
The first two years in Norman were anything but what was expected. As Shepard became a name to watch, Neal had to wait his turn.
Neal had 18 catches for 251 yards through his first two seasons, while Shepard had 45 catches for 621 yards and three touchdowns as just a freshman.
“It was frustrating at times,” Neal said. “Sterling – all he did was encourage me. He kept telling me to stay ready, the time is coming.”
Roommates since freshman year, Shepard views things with Neal a little different than most. He doesn’t view what Neal has done as a disappointment, Shepard was just lucky to be able to have the opportunity to come in early.
“It’s not that he wasn’t capable,” Shepard said. “I was in a better position. The spot was open for me. He had guys like Justin (Brown) and Kenny (Stills) out wide. He learned from those guys. Never got discouraged or anything.”
Shepard followed his stellar freshman season with a solid sophomore campaign, 51 catches for 603 yards and seven touchdowns.
While Shepard was producing on the field, the two took turns helping each other off the field. Neal said a big part of his inconsistency had to deal with some family issues. Away from home, Shepard’s family became like his second family and Shepard like the brother he never had.
“I’m an only child, and he has two sisters,” Neal said. “We both never had that brother-like figure in our lives. That guy who does the same stuff as you, likes the same stuff as you. It’s just a special connection.”
The two are still roommates and recently added a puppy to the mix. When they weren’t taking their puppy out for walks and stuff like that, they were getting ready for the 2014 season because they knew it would be a big one.
“We’re the dynamic duo, 3 and 5,” Neal said.
They’ve gone from being the new kids on the block to being the elder statesmen of the group. Young wide receivers are now looking up to them.
Through the first four games, they have delivered in spades. A move from slot to the outside hasn’t been an issue at all for Shepard.
The junior has three consecutive games of at least 100 yards receiving and leads the teams with 23 catches for 436 yards and two touchdowns.
Neal, playing the most consistent football of his time at OU, has almost as many catches this season as he had in his first two seasons.
He has 17 catches for 211 yards and also threw a touchdown pass last week, a four-yard strike to Trevor Knight in the second quarter.
Nobody is surprised by what they’re doing, especially not wide receivers coach Jay Norvell who has watched them grow throughout the years.
“They’re like Mutt and Jeff anyway,” Norvell said. “They feed off of each other, but it’s just good because they know that one guy can make a play on one side, the other guy can do the same thing on the other side.
“They always talk, and they’re competitive. They both want to do well so I think they push each other. They play off of each other and together they’re really giving a good example to the room on how to come to work every day, how to stay on top of your assignments and how to prepare for big games.”
And they’re not too bad at celebrating touchdowns, either.