Rested & healthy, Shepard eyes big return

It has been more than two months since Sterling Shepard has played a complete game for OU. He hopes to change that in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Through the first eight games of the season, Oklahoma junior wide receiver Sterling Shepard had definitely left his mark.

If his season had ended after OU’s win at Iowa State, it would still be looked at as an impressive set of numbers with 50 catches for 957 yards and five touchdowns.

And unfortunately, it did pretty much end on one last acrobatic go ball reception on the first play from scrimmage against the Cyclones.

Shepard suffered a groin injury that debilitated him the rest of the season. The only cure for such an injury is rest, the only thing Shepard and the Sooners couldn’t really afford to give time toward during recovery.

The routine almost became heartbreaking in a way. Shepard would try to show what he could do in pregame warmups. He might even play a series or two. But once he had to make that first cut or was hit for the first time, it was back to taking the pads off.

“It was pretty frustrating,” Shepard said. “In my brain, I wanted to go, but my body was not letting me go.”

Shepard gave it one last try three weeks ago in Bedlam, leading the team out of the tunnel. This time it would be different. Shepard, however, knew it wouldn’t be.

He said last week he knew he wasn’t 100 percent for Oklahoma State, but he wanted to try to give it a shot. Nothing materialized and all Shepard could do was watch from the sidelines as OU couldn’t get its passing game going once again with the wide receivers.

It’s tough to play the hindsight game. In hindsight, if OU had 100 percent rested Shepard, maybe he would have returned for Bedlam or sooner. After Bedlam, he was finally able to give it the rest the injury needed.

“I’m doing a lot better now,” Shepard said. “I got a chance to get a lot of rest. That’s what it really needed, to be away from everything.”

Nagging injuries could be the worst to go through. It was essentially a four-week questionable status for Shepard. Tough for him, tough for the quarterback and tough for the team. Every single time Shepard fully intended to be out there.

Problem is practice speed will never live up to game speed. Shepard had his practice pace and would feel good. Once the lights came on, he was hoping adrenaline would carry him through at least one time. It never happened.

The injury wasn’t new to Shepard. He said he injured it a little bit in the summer, but he heard a pop in the Iowa State game.

All it has been is rehab ever since.

“I got another break (Christmas) coming up so I think it will be OK,” Shepard said. “I think I’m getting better. I’m in there twice a day with rehab, just trying to get my strength back.”

Without Shepard, OU’s passing game has sputtered and its vertical attack has been non-existent. Despite missing basically the final five games of the season, he is still the team leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

The sad thing is it’s not even close. His roommate, Durron Neal, is next with 40 catches for 508 yards and three touchdowns.

OU needed Shepard back out there. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone, but Shepard said he never felt that way.

“I don’t feel any added pressure to get out there, but I obviously want to be out there on the field with my brothers,” Shepard said.

It can’t happen soon enough for Shepard and the OU passing game.

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