Four-star receiver and Oklahoma commit Sterling Shepard recently was all smiles as he received his Under Armour Game jersey during the 80-stop American Family Insurance Presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour.
Like many of the UA All-Americans, Shepard put on his jersey with pride and celebrated with friends and family, taking into consideration the major accolade achieved by only a handful of high school football players each year. Unlike most of the UA All-Americans, Shepard didn't get the initial opportunity to celebrate after reading a congratulatory letter stating he was selected for the UA Game Jan. 5 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"It was definitely a big surprise," Shepard said, "but everybody loves surprises, right?"
What isn't a shock, however, is Shepard's ability to be the ultimate playmaker. Ranked No. 56 in the ESPNU 150 and No. 2 among Oklahoma athletes, Shepard is coming off a three-touchdown performance last week, as Heritage Hall advanced to the Oklahoma Class 3A state semifinals with a win over Seminole. Heritage Hall is the defending state champion in the classification.
Shepard teams up with another four-star athlete in running back Barry Sanders, who recently accepted an invitation to play in the U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio. Together, the duo forms a respectable tandem that leads a high-octane Heritage Hall offense.
"I think when everybody looks at Heritage Hall, they just see a little private school," Shepard said. "We tend to surprise people every year, and I really think we can play up a level. We've definitely shown we can compete with the best of the best. Barry and I just want to rep our school."
Shepard is one of three Oklahoma commits invited to play in the UA Game. He will join future teammates in four-star running back Alex Ross (Jenks, Okla./Jenks) and four-star cornerback De'Vante Harris (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) in Florida.
Playing with and against players of that caliber makes Shepard excited about the opportunity. There was a time where he felt all of his accomplishments on the field would not be rewarded with any of the national, regional or state all-star games on the market.
"It's just a big relief and a blessing to be a part of this," Shepard said. "When I got it, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. You see all the great guys like Julio Jones go through and have their success, and to be put in the same sentence as guys like him, it's an honor."
Shepard, through 12 games, has 64 receptions for 1,189 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is averaging nearly 19 yards per catch. It's Shepard's 40-inch vertical, however, that makes him so dangerous on go-routes. Despite being 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Shepard gets -- and wins --– a lot of jump-ball situations, often times against taller defenders.
He'll get his chances to do that against the nation's elite defenders -- and he's ready.
He's been ready.
"Obviously, there's going to be some tough competition there, and a lot of those guys are on the same level as I am," Shepard said. "It's going to be a challenge, but I'm always up for a challenge."
Damon Sayles covers recruiting in the Midlands for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at email@example.com.