NORMAN — Bob Stoops presented the annual Derrick Shepard Most Inspirational Walk-On Player of the Year award to sophomore fullback Aaron Ripkowski last Friday.
The 2012 award was a little different; freshman receiver Sterling Shepard watched as the award bearing his father's name was presented to one of his teammates.
“I saw Cheri (Shepard) and her daughters were there at the banquet,” Stoops said, referring to Sterling's mother and sisters.
“I said: ‘Sterling doesn't sit with you anymore. Now he's over here with the players.'”
Sterling was 6-years old when his father suffered a fatal heart attack.
Stoops created the walk-on award and named it after Derrick Shepard, who walked on at Oklahoma in the 1980s, went on to earn a scholarship and was a starting wide receiver for the 1985 national championship team.
After his NFL career, Derrick Shepard became an Oklahoma graduate assistant coach under Stoops' predecessor, John Blake; he briefly stayed in the same role after Stoops was hired in December 1998.
The following summer, the 35-year old Shepard accepted a full-time job at Wyoming, but died just a few weeks later.
Stoops was deeply affected by Derrick Shepard's death despite their short relationship; Stoops hadn't even coached his first OU football game when he spoke at the funeral.
After that first season, Stoops instituted Oklahoma's annual football awards banquet and honored defensive end Corey Heinecke and linebacker Roger Steffen as the first recipients of the Derrick Shepard Most Inspirational Walk-On Player of the Year award.
Heinecke and Steffen each went on to earn scholarships, and played key roles the next season on Oklahoma's national championship team.
During his true freshman season, Sterling Shepard has caught 41 passes for 578 yards and three touchdowns, doing it all while wearing the same No. 3 jersey his father wore nearly three decades ago.
Ripkowski, from Dayton, Texas, made his mark on special teams and in the short-yardage “Belldozer” package.
After presenting the award last week, Stoops announced that Ripkowski would be put on scholarship.
The sophomore fullback said the award is made even more significant because he's Sterling Shepard's teammate.
“We all have respect for his family, and everything his dad did for the program,” Ripkowski said. “It's a great honor to be able to win that award, to be named somebody worthy of getting that award.”