NORMAN — The crimson, No. 3 jersey and the guy wearing it, running around Oklahoma's practice field and catching passes, look awfully familiar to Cale Gundy.
Gundy was a young boy in the mid-1980s, watching a quick and sure-handed, if maybe a little undersized, receiver named Derrick Shepard make plays for the Sooners.
Today, as OU's running backs coach, Gundy sees a lot of Derrick Shepard in Sooners true freshman Sterling Shepard.
“He looks just like his daddy running around,” Gundy said. “I can remember as a kid, watching his dad run around, and he looks just like his dad.”
His father is one of two former Sooners with whom Sterling Shepard has been compared by those around the program.
Shepard's on-field strengths have many thinking he could be the next Ryan Broyles, the recently departed all-time NCAA receptions leader and current Detroit Lion.
High praise, to be sure. Shepard could very well find himself occupying Broyles' slot position as a true freshman after impressive showings during summer workouts and fall practices.
Comparisons between Sterling Shepard and his father, though, carry with them a family legacy and memories of his hero, whose untimely death left him with a painful void.
Gundy was struck by just how much Sterling Shepard looks and plays like his dad in a No. 3 Sooners jersey; still, that doesn't mean there aren't some differences between the two Shepards, at least as freshmen.
Derrick Shepard arrived at Oklahoma in 1982 as a 159-pound walk-on quarterback before moving to wideout, earning a scholarship, winning a national championship and playing five NFL seasons.
Sterling Shepard, on the other hand, was a four-star recruit from Heritage Hall with lots of offers, and enters his freshman season weighing 188 pounds.
“The difference is, he's as big as his dad was as a senior in college,” Gundy said.
As a senior at Heritage Hall last season, Shepard made 73 catches for 1,243 yards and 17 touchdowns.
His 5-foot-10 frame, intelligence and hands made him exciting to many Sooner fans, who saw Shepard as a possible successor to Broyles.
Reports and rumors through the summer indicated Shepard was performing extremely well and on his way toward earning playing time and maybe even a starting role, especially in the aftermath three receivers' indefinite suspension in May.
But after Lacoltan Bester and Justin Brown each transferred in, from East Mississippi Community College and Penn State, respectively, Shepard finds himself in a much more crowded competition for catches and playing time.
Shepard is one of four true freshmen wideouts in the Sooners' fall camp, along with Durron Neal, Derrick Woods and, of course, Trey Metoyer, who is all but guaranteed to start and quickly become one of quarterback Landry Jones' favorite targets.
Kenny Stills tried his hand in the slot last season after Broyles tore his ACL, but struggled to develop chemistry with Jones in the unfamiliar position. Word out of camp, though, is that Stills is again working in the slot, with some combination of Bester, Brown and Metoyer on the outside.
So where does that leave Shepard?
A redshirt seems unlikely; coaches and players alike continue to praise Shepard, who is expected to return kicks and see time at receiver — how much time remains to be seen — as a freshman.
“He's a pretty natural route runner,” Jones said. “He knows how to use his body and his hands to get open.”
Said offensive coordinator Josh Heupel: “He's not the biggest guy, but he plays strong. He understands leverage. He likes to lean on guys and use his body to create some separation. He uses his hands, as far as a young wide receiver coming off of the line of scrimmage, maybe as good as anybody I've been around.”
The same praise was once awarded to Derrick Shepard. His son, a 6-year old when Derrick Shepard died from a heart attack, continues to embrace his family's OU football legacy.
Sterling Shepard is the fourth member of his family to play football for the Sooners, joining his dad and two uncles, Woodie and Darrell.
That legacy is why Sterling Shepard picked Oklahoma over several other, impressive scholarship offers. It's why he grew up dreaming of a Sooner football career.
It's also why he chose to wear jersey No. 3, just like his father once did.
Said Shepard in February 2011, when he committed to OU, “This is where my heart is.”