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Insider

Door opens for OU's incoming receivers

5/10/2012

Oklahoma signee Durron Neal (St. Louis/De Smet Jesuit) had about 20 phone calls and text messages last night. For Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma City/Heritage Hall), the news didn’t hit his phone until Thursday morning and he said he has already talked to several people.

In other words, the highly touted group of receivers for the Sooners know they’re going to have to grow up in a hurry.

OU coach Bob Stoops announced Wednesday night that four players have been indefinitely suspended for violating team rules. Receivers Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson were included in that group.

Jackson’s future was up in the air before the suspension as he had announced on Twitter earlier in the week that he was going to transfer. But both Reynolds and Franks were expected to contribute in big ways in the fall.

Instead, the Sooners might have to rely on incoming freshmen Neal, Shepard and Derrick Woods (Inglewood, Calif./Inglewood), along with junior college transfer Courtney Gardner.

“I’ve been talking with D. Woods and Sterling and we’re all excited to come in and contribute,” Neal said. “We’re going to show they can count on a bunch of 18-year-old kids.”

The news came as a shock to Neal and Shepard. Between Reynolds, Franks and Jackson, the three had 75 catches for 1,076 yards and five touchdowns in 2011. But it wasn’t just the production on the field. With Neal in St. Louis and Woods in California, they didn’t get to interact with the team as much as they wanted.

With Shepard just up the road in Oklahoma City, however, the news stung a little more. Shepard has attended almost every home game the last two seasons and has become a familiar face in the locker room.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Shepard said. “I’ve been around those guys for a long time and kind of looked up to them. It’s sad to see this happen. All it tells me is I need to step up.”

If the suspensions last through the season opener, it will mean the Sooners will have only one wide receiver, Kenny Stills, that has caught a pass in a college football game. Stills had 61 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

That fact is not lost on Neal and Shepard. The suspensions might give the future roommates an opportunity, but it hasn’t changed their mindset.

“If those guys were there, it wouldn’t change anything,” Neal said. “I’m still going to come in and work hard and do what’s needed.”

Neal, 6-foot and 190 pounds, was ranked No. 64 in the ESPN 150 and No. 10 at wide receiver. Shepard, 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, was a few spots ahead of him at No. 60 in the ESPN 150 and No. 9.

“It’s up to me whether or not I can do it,” Shepard said. “I won’t let myself fail.”

Not to be forgotten, Woods was ranked No. 137 in the ESPN 150 and No. 19 at receiver. And the group does have reason to be optimistic after watching what spring enrollee Trey Metoyer did during the spring. Metoyer was the talk of the spring when it came to OU’s offense, having arguably the most impressive spring of any player on the roster.

“He is incredible," Shepard said. "He got his chance, and he is making the most of it. That’s what we all want to do."

That chance could come even sooner than what most people predicted.