NORMAN — It just happened.
Sterling Shepard wasn't trying to jump over an All-American tackler. He didn't even realize he'd jumped until he saw his teammate, Trey Metoyer, smiling.
‘Thatta boy,' Metoyer said.
I guess I jumped him.
Days later, Shepard studied the moment captured in a photo by The Oklahoman's Chris Landsberger. His smile didn't fade as he talked about the photo.
Shepard described the moment when he ran his route, cut to the left, caught a pass, took three running steps then three short, quick steps before launching himself into the air, flying over a Kansas State defender, becoming a playmaker in his first Big 12 game.
His eyes were affixed to the photo as he spoke, only looking up to be polite when asked another question.
“It was just a split thing and it happened,” Shepard said.
He didn't hear the crowd erupt in cheers. He said he never hears the crowd. He was just looking for the signal for the next call. There was no time to celebrate his extra effort, his leap over the Wildcats for a first down.
This was the third time Shepard jumped over a defender. The first was his junior year of high school. His second was his senior year. And his third was last Saturday against Kansas State.
Shepard knows he can jump. He first realized it during a basketball game his freshman year. He had a little tip back. Although he stopped playing organized basketball his sophomore year, he plays a lot of pickup. He never holds back there.
It shocks people when they see his 5-foot-10, 188-pound frame go for a dunk.
“It's just all for fun and games though when I'm playing pickup,” Shepard said.
The first thing Shepard saw in the photo wasn't the height of his jump, though.
“Coach (Josh) Heupel's going to get after me,” Shepard said. “He's going to kill me in film.”
For jumping a guy? No. For leaving the ball clearly unprotected? Yes.
“We always harp on ball protection and that's not really good ball protection right there,” Shepard said.
When wide receivers coach Jay Norvell was asked about the play, he did just that.
“That was an extra-effort play and he's got to be smart about that,” Norvell said. “He's got to keep the ball locked up. … He'll only gain confidence from that and he's not concerned about the physical nature of the game. He's playing hard and he's laying it on the line so you've got to appreciate that as a coach.”
As cool as the moment was for everyone in the stands and watching on TV, some of the feedback Shepard received stressed not making it a habit.
Kansas State's Jared Milo can be seen in the photo running toward Shepard. Milo came in and hit Shepard near his shoulder pads.
“He really could have hit my legs and that could have been nasty,” Shepard said.
This time, nothing happened. He was shoved out after he made the first down. He popped back up and shuffled sideways as he watched the sideline for the next call, trying to help take his team down the field.
As of publishing time, the photo was Shepard's main photo on Facebook and his avatar on Twitter.
He wouldn't have recommended it for SportsCenters' Top 10 though.
“I just got a first down off of it,” Shepard said. “It wasn't like a touchdown or anything, but it was definitely a good play, but I could have protected the ball a little bit better.”