Continuing the Shepard Legacy
Fifteen years ago, a great Sooner was suddenly taken from us. Former Oklahoma and NFL wide receiver Derrick Shepard suffered a heart attack at the young age of 35 and passed away on Aug. 4, 1999, leaving behind wife Cheri and three young children, Ashleigh, Shelby and Sterling.
After the tragedy the Sooner football family took six-year old Sterling under its wing and had him as a guest at various games and practices over the years until he got to the age where the NCAA no longer allowed the activity, due to him being considered a potential recruit.
Fast-forward a number of years to the present and Shepard is now entering his junior season at OU as the top returning wide receiver after enjoying a breakout 2013 campaign.
During his sophomore season, Shepard passed his father on the career receptions and touchdown charts, as Sterling has racked up an impressive 96 catches, 10 for TDs, over his two seasons in Norman. Shepard needs just 15 yards heading into 2014 to eclipse his father’s career mark of 1,237 yards in a career.
When you catch the ball become a runner and don’t go down easy. That’s what I take from my dad’s game, don’t go down easy.
WR Sterling Shepard
When asked what part of his father’s game Sterling tries to replicate, he commented on the way his dad was such a physical wide receiver.
“The way they played was so physical,” said Shepard. “I try to implement my game that way. When you catch the ball become a runner and don’t go down easy. That’s what I take from my dad’s game, don’t go down easy.”
The junior will play a major factor in the Sooners’ offense this season, as coaches are already praising the wide out for the way he has looked in camp.
“Sterling has been really exceptional and he’s taking it to another level,” said head coach Bob Stoops.
Wide receiver’s coach Jay Norvell has also noted the development of Shepard not just as a wide receiver but also as a teammate.
“The biggest thing with Sterling is his maturity,” said Norvell. “He’s really matured, and he’s broadened his focus to where he’s really more accountable to the entire team - not just being a wide receiver doing his job.”
Shepard understands that he is following in his father’s footsteps but does not try to put too much pressure on himself to live up to any expectations.
“I try not to put too much weight on my shoulders but it’s something to think about,” said Shepard. “My uncle used to play here too so I am just trying to keep the family legacy going.”
Barry Switzer, who coached Derrick Shepard at OU, attending Monday’s practice and made a point of taking a photo with Sterling that he Tweeted from his @Barry_Switzer account to remind today’s fans of what a great man the elder Shepard was and the legacy he left behind in Sterling.
For a deeper look into Shepard’s story, follow this link.
The Oklahoma Drill
The team hit the practice field in full pads for the first time on Monday, which could only mean one thing: the return of the famed Oklahoma Drill.
Monday’s Oklahoma Drill session was special for a couple of reasons. First reason being ESPN The Magazine senior writer David Fleming was present, as he is currently working on a special piece featuring the timeless practice drill that gets down to the essence of football – toughness, tenacity and instincts.
“I’m doing a longer takeout piece for the magazine on the history and the popularity of the Oklahoma Drill,” said Fleming. “You can go to any football field at any level in any part of the country and say two words ‘Oklahoma Drill’ and it immediately evokes all these deep feelings and emotions from football players. It’s the one that takes five seconds, if that, that sort of links and initiates all football players.
You can’t do the Oklahoma Drill without spending a lot of time in Oklahoma.
ESPN The Magazine's Dave Fleming
“I am talking to coach [Bob Stoops] and some of the players that did well today. It’s great though, I have been talking to alumni and coach [Barry] Switzer was here. This is like a one-stop shop because, after all, the Oklahoma Drill was invented here.”
Fleming met with current players Blake Bell, Eric Striker and Keith Ford after practice and will also speak with Jay Wilkinson, the son of Bud Wilkinson who was the creator of the classic drill, along with his longtime assistant, Gomer Jones.
“You can’t do the Oklahoma Drill without spending a lot of time in Oklahoma,” said Fleming.
The second reason Monday’s Oklahoma Drill was unique was it marked the first time that one particular veteran Sooner participated in the drill. Bell, a quarterback turned tight end, simply handed the ball to a running back in his first three seasons at OU but took on a much different role this time around.
“It was a little different,” said Bell. “Obviously not handing the ball off and stuff back there is a little different. It’s more physical, but it was fun.”
Bell was matched up with senior linebacker Geneo Grissom for his initiation and Bell more than held his own, getting the better of the experienced defensive stalwart and clearing a path for running back David Smith.
“It was fun,” said Bell. “I got down there and was going against Geneo, who is one of the strongest D-lineman I could go against, so I knew I had to bring my ‘A’ game. It is all about quick feet and getting your hands in there and I thought I did a pretty good job.”
Bell also remarked on how neat it is to be performing the drill in practice at the same place it originated.
“It’s awesome,” said Bell. “Knowing that it is called the ‘Oklahoma Drill’ and we do it is something special.”
Wilson Switching Things Up
Fifth-year senior Julian Wilson is one of the veterans on this 2014 Sooner squad, however, the beginning of this year’s camp is much different than the previous years for Wilson.
The Oklahoma City native is making the transition from safety to cornerback in his final season at OU. Wilson is one of the candidates vying to line up on the other side of the field of 2013 All-Big 12 Freshman pick, Zack Sanchez.
According to head coach Bob Stoops, Wilson is excelling at his new cornerback position.
“Julian Wilson really looks great at corner,” said Stoops. “We recruited him as a corner out of high school. He's got great speed, size and range.”
Despite being recruited at the cornerback position, Wilson found his way onto the field as a safety/nickelback over the past three seasons in Norman. The senior has recorded 57 tackles and three interceptions over his career as the defense’s last line of defense.
Coach Stoops is leaning on Wilson’s on-field experience and is not worried about a rough transition from safety to cornerback.
“He's a fifth-year senior and he's played for the last three years and the last two years in a starting role,” said Stoops. “You can tell his experience even out of the corner position.”
The Sooners are scheduled for their first two-a-day session on Tuesday with practices set for 8 am and 6 pm at the OU Rugby Fields. Tuesday’s practices are among four “double days” currently on OU’s practice slate ... On Wednesday, the club is expected to conduct some live team periods before a second two-a-day session on Thursday.