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Oklahoma football: Sterling Shepard to make debut on same field where his late father played

by Jason Kersey Published: September 7, 2012
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NORMAN — Sterling Shepard was 18 years old and already a high school football superstar the day he committed to Bob Stoops.

Sterling Shepard was 6 and entering his first flag football season the day Bob Stoops committed to him.

Stoops had yet to coach his first OU football game when a former Sooner receiver and graduate assistant coach suffered a fatal heart attack at age 35. Derrick Shepard died Aug. 4, 1999, leaving behind a wife, Cheri, and three young children, Ashleigh, Shelby and Sterling.

A few weeks later, Stoops and some of his assistants showed up at one of Sterling's first flag football practices.

“They were all rooting him on and coaching him from the sideline,” said Cheri Shepard.

“We were sitting on the bleachers, and coach Stoops said, ‘Cheri, I couldn't imagine what my life would've been like without my dad. ... Anytime Sterling wants to come to practice or check out games, he's welcome.' ”

Sterling became a fixture — on the Sooners' sideline, at practice and in the locker room after games — until NCAA rules prohibited him from doing so.

“None of us had any idea we'd be recruiting him someday,” Stoops said.

Thirteen years later, Sterling is a freshman receiver for the Sooners, who play their home opener Saturday at 6 p.m. against Florida A&M. He'll wear jersey No. 3, just like his dad once did

“I was always aware of having my arm around him whenever I could,” Stoops said. “I wanted him to know this was a special place for his dad, and for him to feel like he was part of it.”

A FAMILY MAN

Derrick Shepard was a standout OU receiver in the 1980s and, after his NFL career, became a graduate assistant under John Blake.

When Stoops was hired in December 1998, Derrick stayed on until he landed a full-time gig at Wyoming the next summer. Within a few weeks he was dead.

Stoops knew the man little more than six months when he spoke at his funeral, telling mourners at St. John Missionary Baptist Church why Shepard so frequently was late to work.

The Shepard family lived on the east side of Norman, but each morning, Derrick would drive Sterling to school on the west side before coming back to OU.

“He was concerned that would give the wrong impression,” Cheri Shepard said. “But (Stoops) said, ‘It didn't make us upset. We admired him for being a family man and being a good father.'”

When Stoops returned to his office, he put his handwritten remarks in the top drawer of his desk. There they stayed for more than 12 years.

“Thinking so much of Derrick, I couldn't get rid of it,” Stoops said.

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by Jason Kersey
OU Sports Reporter
Jason Kersey became The Oklahoman's OU football beat writer in May 2012 after a year covering high school sports and OSU recruiting. Before joining the newspaper in November 2006 as a part-time results clerk, he covered high school football for...
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