OU commit Sterling Shepard proud to carry on father's legacy

LITTLE ALL-CITY OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR — Heritage Hall star Sterling Shepard's dad, former Sooner receiver Derrick Shepard, died when Sterling was 6 years old. Sterling wonders what his father would think about what his son has become.
BY JENNI CARLSON Staff Writer jcarlson@opubco.com Published: December 29, 2011

Sterling Shepard receives affirmation from all sorts of sources.

He hears cheers from Heritage Hall football fans. He sees four-star rankings from recruiting services. He listens to can't-live-without-you recruiting pitches from college recruiters.

We are now adding our voices to the chorus, naming the senior receiver as The Oklahoman's Little All-City Offensive Play of the Year.

But there is still one man who Shepard wonders what he would think about what he's become.

His dad.

Derrick Shepard, the former Oklahoma receiver, died when his only son was just 6 years old. It ripped a hole in Sterling's life. It created a void that will never be filled.

“Seeing other players with their dads and stuff, it's kind of hard,” Shepard said. “You can't help but sit there and think sometimes ... ‘What would he tell me?'”

The son, after all, plays the same position as the father and wears the same jersey number, No. 3. He even picked the same place to play college football.

He is proud to carry on his dad's legacy.

“He embraces it,” his mom, Cheri, said.

Derrick Shepard not only left OU as one of the Sooners' leading pass catchers of all time but also spent five seasons in the NFL, his last in 1991.

Soon after, he started climbing the rungs on the coaching ladder. Head coach at Webster Junior High in Oklahoma City. Strength coach at U.S. Grant High School. Graduate assistant at OU.

Then the summer before the 1999 season, he got his big break — a full-time assistant coaching job at Wyoming.

Because Cheri had a great job and two of the three kids were already in school, the Shepards decided that Derrick would go to Wyoming and the rest of the family would stay in Oklahoma.

A little over a month after he'd left, Cheri and the kids were at grandma's house for a cousin's birthday. The phone rang, and oddly, it was for Cheri. She listened to the voice on the other end for a few moments, then broke down.

“My older sister immediately knew,” Sterling said of sister Ashleigh, who is three years older. “It was weird. She said, ‘I think something's wrong with dad.'”

Derrick had been playing racquetball, something that he loved to do. He regularly took the kids with him for his regular Sunday morning games.

But as he played that day hundreds of miles from home, he collapsed and died of a heart attack.

He was only 35.

The news rocked the entire Shepard family, but no one took it any harder than Sterling. He wailed and cried for his dad, even at the funeral.

“I would have to rock him and rock him,” his mom remembered. “I could tell he felt like there was a void immediately.”

He asked Cheri all sorts of practical yet heartbreaking questions.

“What if someone breaks in our house?” he said to her. “Do you know how to fight?”

She reassured him that they'd get a burglar alarm, that everything would be fine, that his dad wouldn't want him to worry.

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