DALLAS – Sitting on the sideline last year watching his teammates – his brothers – play without him was hard. That’s why Sterling Shepard tried to force his way back on the field, even when he wasn’t quite 100 percent.
He didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity, on the battle, with all the guys he spent long hours working next to in that infamous mid-August Oklahoma heat.
This season, Shepard has a new lease on his career – and a chance to close his long chapter of Oklahoma football on the right note. He didn’t need surgery for last year’s torn abductor, and now, he’s got a new offense to help write the perfect ending to an Oklahoma career that is nearly two decades old.
“I’ve been around that facility so many times and been in so many games,” he said. “There’s nothing like putting on that jersey and going out there and catching balls in front of 85,000 Sooners fans.”
Shepard’s father, Derrick, played on the 1985 national championship team but passed away in 1999. The younger Shepard has been a part of the Oklahoma program ever since – a constant in the locker room or on the field while he was growing up.
He’s still a fixture, but it’s in a much different capacity. He’s the only receiver on the Oklahoma roster with more than 45 catches in a single season – something Shepard has done three times. He’ll be the focal point in a new offense that leaves him a little giddy, the same feeling he gets from the start of every season.
“I’ll be everywhere,” Shepard said of where he’ll line up on the field in new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s pass-first attack. “I can’t wait. It puts a smile on my face. I love moving around. I love being on the inside. The defense never knows where you’re going to be. I felt like I got away from that.”
That’s how he’ll write the final few pages of the longest – and most important – chapter of his life thus far: With a pen perfect for his skill set.
“This is my last season,” Shepard said. “. . . It kind of snuck up on me pretty fast. We’re almost to the end of it. It’s crazy to talk about and think about. I can’t wait to get it underway. The changes that we’ve made, they’re going to be for the best.”
People still approach Shepard thinking that he’s a junior, and Shepard said his mother, Cheri, at times still can’t believe that he’s only got five months left at Oklahoma.
All that’s left is for Shepard to help write his final chapter.
“This is my last season, I’d love to end it with a bang,” Shepard said. “That’s why we’ve been working through the offseason. For us seniors, it’s our last go-round. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do since I was a youngster.”
But what’s a bang?
“Win the national championship: That’s what I want to do.,” he said. “First to start off, I want to win the Big 12. Big trophy, that’s what everybody wants to do. That’s what I want to do as a senior.”
It’s the same goal he had when the Oklahoma chapter of Shepard’s life started from the sidelines and at practices: The one he heard about his father accomplishing in 1985, roughly ten years before Shepard was born.
“It goes all the way back to hearing my dad win the ’85 championship,” he said. “That’s always been something I’ve heard about since I was a little kid. I didn’t know much about it. As I got older, that was something that I wanted to do. I wanted have one of those rings on my finger. I want to have one of those moments with my teammates.
“Coming to the end of my career here at OU, it only sounds right.”