He is a high school football superstar and a big-time national recruit. He is a son of Bedlam and a product of his pops, playing the same position his father did in the NFL. He is fast and strong, agile and intelligent.
He is the best player in Oklahoma.
But who is he? Barry J. Sanders or Sterling Shepard?
On the day The Oklahoman culminates its Super 30, Sanders stands atop the list of the state's top recruits. The Heritage Hall running back is being courted by a who's who of college football — Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma State, Stanford and UCLA.
But there are people who will argue he isn't even the best player on his team, much less the best player in the state.
Here at headquarters, we hear from these folks every time we run a story on Sanders. They ask us why we write so much about him. They tell us that we've got the wrong guy.
Shepard, they insist, is better than Sanders.
Who is better?
No question is juicier heading into this season.
It starts with their Bedlam pedigrees. Sanders is the son of former OSU legend and Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders, while Shepard is the son of former OU standout Derrick Shepard. Sanders' dad went on to play in the NFL. So did Shepard's dad.
Now, Shepard has committed to play ball for the Sooners like his dad.
Sanders may follow in his dad's footsteps, too, and become a Cowboy.
Who among us doesn't love a little Bedlam intrigue?
But really, the question of who's the better player goes beyond that. Sanders has been grabbing headlines for years. Our sports section ran a picture of him on the football field for the first time on Oct. 26, 2006. He was in seventh grade.
Hey, Sanders is the son of a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
And he played like it even early in his high school career, rushing for 743 yards and emerging as Heritage Hall's primary back late in the season as a freshman, then rushing for 1,707 yards and scoring 30 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Shepard didn't step into the limelight until last year as a junior when Sanders suffered a foot injury midway through the regular season. With Sanders sidelined, Heritage Hall called on Shepard. He finished the season with 34 touchdowns, including four second-half scores in the Class 3A state championship game. His last touchdown came on a long run with a little over a minute left as Heritage Hall won 28-21.
Yes, he scored every touchdown in the title game.
Those are the kind of performances that fuel the Sanders-or-Shepard argument about who's better.
Then again, it's our nature as Americans to know who's best. We want to eat at the best restaurants and drive the best cars. We want to watch the best shows and wear the best clothes.
Who's No. 1?
Ask Americans, and they'll have an opinion regardless of the subject.
So, of course, we want to know who's the better player, Sanders or Shepard. We want to debate it. We want to pick it apart. We want to discuss it to death.
My advice — don't.
Instead of worrying about who's better, enjoy watching Sanders and Shepard. We have a rare opportunity this season. We can catch two of the best players in the country on the same team on the same field at the same time. We can see their greatness for ourselves. We can witness their highlights instead of just punching them up on YouTube.
Oh, there will come a day when we'll have to pick player of the year, but that's months and months away. These guys will play a bunch of ballgames and make a ton of highlights between now and then.
Talent like this doesn't come along every day.
Don't debate it. Relish it.