Sterling Shepard still wearing his father’s jersey number in the NFL
When Sterling Shepard steps onto the field in AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday afternoon for his first regular season game in the NFL, he will not be wearing the No. 3 jersey that Oklahoma Sooner fans are used to seeing him in.
Instead, he will be wearing No. 87, the same number his late father, Derrick Shepard, wore during his NFL career. It wasn't by design.
The NFL doesn't allow single-digit numbers to be worn by wide receivers so just by coincidence Shepard was assigned No. 87 when he joined the New York Giants.
“It just kind of happened,” Shepard said in a telephone interview with The Oklahoman on Friday. “They gave me that number when I got here.
“I was originally thinking on changing it to a teen number, but I just thought I might as well stick with it. It's my dad's number and I wore my dad's number in college, too.”
Perhaps it was fate, just as it seemed to be that Shepard would grow up to play wide receiver at Oklahoma like his father.
Now, Shepard is in the NFL where his father was employed for five years, although many people envision a longer and more productive NFL career for the son.
Even though he is a rookie, many pundits and fantasy football gurus are predicting big things from Shepard this season.
He will be playing as a slot receiver in a high-scoring offense that features quarterback Eli Manning with wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz.
It seems a perfect fit for Shepard, who had 232 receptions for 3,482 yards in his career at Oklahoma. Beckham was excited when the Giants drafted Shepard with the 40th overall pick in the second round.
After the draft, the Giants' star player tweeted that Shepard was a steal and then tweeted “1,306” at his new teammate. The number represented one more yard receiving than Beckham had in his rookie season with the G-Men.
“He is just putting that in my head, trying to get me to strive for that, setting out a goal for me,” Shepard said. “It means a lot, but I am just going to go out and just focus on what I have got to do, doing my job. If I do my job then those types of things will come.”
The former Heritage Hall standout has been writing a rookie blog on the Giants' website and frequently mentions Beckham, who has been mentoring Shepard about the NFL game.
“He is just always in my head whenever we are off the field,” Shepard said. “If he sees something that I'm not doing right or that I could do a little bit better, he will let me know.
“He just helps me out with different techniques. He and Victor both do, so it's not just one. They are both always helping me out with little things. It's been going great.
“It's just been a blessing playing with those guys. I've been looking up to them since I have been in college. I have been watching them play for a while, and they have had a lot of success in the NFL. There's no two better guys to be playing with.”
Shepard said the biggest adjustment from the college game to the NFL is the speed on the field and the complexity of the offense.
“Just the speed and the terminology and the plays,” he said. “That's probably the main thing, the playbook. It's just a lot more in depth, a lot more material.”
Shepard's NFL regular season debut comes not far from Norman. The Giants open the season on the road against the Dallas Cowboys.
There will be many Sterling Shepard fans in attendance. Shepard was overwhelmed with ticket requests from family and friends.
“I just turned it over to my mom. I told everybody to hit my mom up and she's been taking care of all of it … It's pretty exciting. I got a lot of family, a lot of friends out there that will be coming to the game. I feel like I am prepared. I am ready to go.”