All season long, he had been counted on to be the Sooners’ go-to receiver with little help or support from just about anyone on the offensive side of the ball. He had played through putrid offensive showings for the past two games, but on Saturday against Kansas State, he played through immense pain.
He felt obligated to do it.
“It sends a message to the young guys,” said Shepard, who said he will be fine for the next game. “There’s going to be times in their career when they are going to be banged up. If they’re the leader, they need to push through it.
“I just try to set an example in that way and show those guys that just because you have a bang or a bruise doesn’t mean you need to sit down.”
After crushing a camera lens worth nearly $10,000 in the first half, Shepard rolled in the back of the end zone in pain. Crushing the expensive piece of equipment under his hip, Shepard suffered a deep bruise that affected his gait well after the game.
It never affected his play.
Shepard finished Saturday’s loss to Kansas State with a career-high 15 receptions – tying a single-game school record that had been done three times before, all since 2010 –for 197 yards and one touchdown.
“Sterling had another incredible game,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s such a great competitor to go with the talent. He’s really special in that way.”
After the injury in the first half, Shepard added another 102 yards in the second half to his total. Before halftime, Shepard already reached a career-high eight receptions. By the end of the game, he had doubled his previous high.
He never had any concern that he wouldn’t come back out for the second half.
It was just another day in what has become a breakout season for Shepard.
Now with 714 yards, a career-high total for a season, Shepard is averaging more than 20 yards per catch and leads the nation in that category for receivers with more than 30 catches.
“Sterling continues to make extremely big plays in the pass game,” Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight said.
Shepard is now ninth all-time in catches, sixth all-time in receiving yards, and 10th in career receiving touchdowns. He had more than half of Oklahoma’s completions Saturday and has continued to be the only deep threat for Oklahoma (5-2, 2-2 Big 12). Through seven games, Shepard has more touchdown receptions than the rest of the team and nearly half of the team’s passing yards.
For the previous two games, Oklahoma’s offense had let him down. After Saturday’s loss and a career day for the junior, he felt like he should have done more – even if there wasn’t much more he could have done.
“If we don’t get the win, I don’t care what I did individually,” Shepard said.