Darrell Shepard is proud to call himself an Oklahoma alum, a former Sooner quarterback and part of a crimson-and-cream family legacy.
But these days, he's every bit as proud of another title.
Sterling Shepard will extend his family's Sooner lineage later this week when he signs with OU. The Heritage Hall standout will follow in the footsteps of three Shepards who went before him — his father, Derrick; his uncle Woodie; and his uncle Darrell.
“I'm really proud of Sterling,” Darrell said via telephone from his home in Michigan. “I know there's a lot of pressure there trying to live up to the name, and I think he has done that real well.”
No doubt about that. This past season, the wide receiver had 73 catches for 1,243 yards and 17 touchdowns. His big-play ability stunned opponents, wowed fans and earned Little-All City Offensive Player of the Year honors.
He even showed some serious grit. In Heritage Hall's state semifinal loss to Cascia Hall, Shepard played on a severely injured hamstring — and still caught a touchdown pass and picked off a pass.
Even with all the highlights and all of the accolades, those aren't the things that make Sterling's uncle proudest.
“I can't really name just one thing,” Darrell said. “I'm proud of him in so many ways.”
Topping the list, though, is the maturity that Sterling has shown despite growing up without his dad. Derrick Shepard had just started a new assistant coaching job at Wyoming and was beginning to climb the coaching ranks when he suffered a heart attack and died. He was only 35 years old.
His death rocked the entire family, but no one was more shaken than 6-year-old Sterling, who would wail for hours on end.
He became the man of the house, a protector for his mom and two sisters.
“For him to stay focused and achieve the things he has achieved in sports — and I know it hasn't been easy — that tells you something about him,” Darrell said. “He is a good kid.”
Sterling hasn't been without male role models, though. Prime among them are his uncles. He even invited Uncle Darrell to come on his official visit to OU.
Along with Sterling's mom, Cheri, they walked the campus. They strolled the field. They toured the stadium. They went to the weight room, the training room and the locker room.
Much of it was familiar to Darrell, but at the same time, so much was different.
“It was surreal,” he said. “Oklahoma changed a bit since '82, but the memories are still there.”
The thing that he loved most, though, was spending time with this nephew. Darrell lives in Michigan, where he is an international representative for the United Auto Workers. Sterling lives in Oklahoma. They talk or text regularly, but Darrell knows it's not the same as seeing each other.
“I just wish I was there with him during his high school career to help him,” Darrell said. “Since his dad is not there, I just wish I could've been a part of it.”
Now, uncle and nephew will get to share that Shepard Sooner lineage.
Being a Sooner is what Sterling always wanted. It's why he didn't make any other official visits. It's why he said yes to OU even though there will be pressure following in the footsteps of those who came before him, most notably his father.
He plays the same position, wears the same number, even displays many of the same mannerisms as Derrick did.
Darrell believes Sterling can handle the comparisons that are sure to come. The teenager has managed so much so well already, there's to reason to believe he can't handle this.
But what about Uncle Darrell? How will he handle seeing another player with Sooners across the front of his jersey and Shepard across the back?
“I can't wait,” he said, excitement in his voice. “I can't wait because I know ... ”
He stopped himself and his enthusiasm.
“I don't want to put any pressure on him, but I know Sterling. He's going to be a good one because he's got good work ethic along with talent.”
Of that, Sterling's uncle couldn't be prouder.