NORMAN — I bumped into Heritage Hall football coach Andy Bogert last week in Norman.
After we exchanged pleasantries, I casually inquired about Sterling Shepard, Bogert's former star receiver who is preparing for his first season at OU.
“Funny you should ask,” Bogert said.
That very day, Bogert was supposed to meet Shepard for lunch.
But Shepard called his old coach that morning to say he couldn't make it.
He had to study film.
“It makes me more proud of him,” Bogert said. “He knew what he needed to do. There's other times for us to go to lunch.
“I think that tells you that he's pretty focused on trying to be a starter on that team.”
It's a much more realistic goal than it likely was when Shepard signed his letter of intent in February.
In May, wideouts Trey Franks, Kameel Jackson and Jaz Reynolds were all suspended indefinitely by coach Bob Stoops for violating unspecified team rules. Franks and Reynolds were removed from their scholarships; Jackson kept his for the summer, but he might lose it come fall.
All three have daunting roads ahead to return to Stoops' good graces.
If the suspensions last through the Sept. 1 opener at UTEP, junior Kenny Stills will be the only receiver on the roster with any experience.
Shepard is one of four true freshmen joining the Sooners, along with Trey Metoyer, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods. Junior college transfers Courtney Gardner and LaColtan Bester are also expected to compete for playing time.
But Shepard brings a unique skill set, one that could move him right into an important role vacated by Ryan Broyles, who left Norman as the NCAA's all-time receptions leader.
“I think he's a slot receiver,” Bogert said. “I think that's what they're thinking, and that's what I've always thought, just because Sterling's good when you move him around.
“Being the slot, you can put him just about anywhere, as opposed to an outside guy. I think they'll get to where they move him around quite a bit.”
Shepard's other advantage simply comes from knowing his surroundings. His dad, Derrick, was a receiver on OU's 1985 national championship team. His uncles were also Sooners.
He's been in the locker room, palled around with players and seen with his own eyes, year after year, what it takes to succeed at OU.
“He knows you're going to have to work your butt off, and study your butt off, to get on the field there,” Bogert said. “He knows there are a lot of expectations on him, and that's a good thing. He's been around it and is used to it.”
Bogert said he's sure Shepard is ready to contribute as a freshman based on what he saw at January's Under Armour All-American Game.
Shepard played well in the game, and won the WR/DB Good Hands Skills Challenge a couple days before it.
“When we went down to the Under Armour game, he did so well,” Bogert said. “Those are the type of guys he's going to be playing against. They probably aren't as polished, but they're all athletes.
“It's a different game when everybody you're playing against is an athlete.”
At Heritage Hall, Shepard was twice a member of The Oklahoman's All-State football team, and was Little All-City Offensive Player of the Year as a senior, when he caught 73 passes for 1,243 yards, and scored 29 total touchdowns.
“I've heard he's doing really well from everyone I'm talking to,” Bogert said. “I know he's working hard.
“For some people, it's a tough transition. But Sterling fits in really well down there. I just see success for him.”