NORMAN — Not long after Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard got settled on the airplane heading back from South Bend, Ind., on Saturday, the Stanford-Washington State game came on televisions in the cabin.
The game was in the fourth quarter but when Stanford running back Barry Sanders came back in the game, highlights of Sanders' second-quarter reception were shown.
On the 16-yard play, Sanders flashed the cutting skills that both made his dad famous in the NFL and had recruiters from across the nation calling when Sanders and Shepard were teammates at Heritage Hall.
“It kind of threw me back to high school seeing him run around like that,” Shepard said.
Later, Shepard cheered as Sanders scored his first collegiate touchdown in Stanford's 55-17 blowout.
For most of three years at Heritage Hall, Shepard and Sanders lit up opposing defenses game after game.
In their second year, both turned in their best games to date on the same day.
Against Notre Dame, Shepard had five catches for 83 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown. Shepard has had better yardage days, but Sooners coaches said the combination of his receiving and blocking made it Shepard's most complete game.
Sanders finished with three carries for 34 yards, including the 22-yard touchdown, plus that earlier reception that drew replays on highlight shows.
Sunday morning, the former teammates shared a call.
“Some people come up to me all the time asking me, ‘Is he as good as everybody says he is?'” Shepard said. “I always tell them he's really good. On Saturday, I got a chance to be like, ‘I told you he was really good.' He's making people fall and it just looks like he does it so easy. I know that because I've played with him.
“A lot of people don't get to see it, but they caught a glimpse of it Saturday.”
Sanders has been caught up in a logjam at running back with the Cardinal.
“I always knew that once he gets his shot, he's going to take advantage of it and that's what he did,” Shepard said.
Shepard has taken advantage of his opportunity as well. He's started all four games so far and is averaging more than 14 yards per reception.
He's been more consistent this season, staying on the field in every situation instead of just coming on in four-wide sets.
“I think Sterling is a little different than a lot of slot guys,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “He's a pretty strong kid. He's built like a pit bull. He can handle blocking those bigger guys, and he did a lot of that Saturday.”
Never was that more evident that early in the third quarter against Notre Dame when Blake Bell hit Damien Williams on a swing pass. Shepard's block helped Williams get about 10 more yards for a 17-yard gain and helped set up an eventual field goal.
“He was just outstanding,” Bob Stoops said. “What you don't see unless you go back and watch the game again is you should see the way he played without the football in this game. It's really fun to watch. The guy was blocking everywhere, hustling. That's what I'm most proud of. He was outstanding when he didn't have the ball.”
Early in the fourth, Shepard all but put the game away with his long touchdown.
Shepard looked like he might get brought down by converging Irish defensive backs inside the 20, but he was able to outrun both defenders to get to the end zone.
“I saw how open it was and was kind of surprised when I came out of it,” Shepard said. “I just tried to have tunnel vision and get to the end zone.
“It was probably the fastest I've ever run.”
Sooners co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said the game went beyond just Shepard's best game as a Sooner.
“He played as complete a game at the wide receiver position as we've had played around here in a long time,” Heupel said. “Catching the football. Competitive plays. But he played a physical game. I'm extremely excited about what I saw from him.”