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College coach knows Giants have a gem in Sterling Shepard

Posted May 13, 2016

Giants Rookie WR Sterling Shepard received high praise from his college offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley:


Lincoln Riley spent just one season with Sterling Shepard, but that’s all you need with Oklahoma’s favorite son.

Heading into Shepard’s final year in college, Bob Stoops, the winningest head coach in Oklahoma history, hired Riley as his new offensive coordinator after the Sooners went 5-4 in the Big 12 and 8-5 overall in 2014.

That record is okay for some schools but not for a program that claims seven national championships, including one that Shepard’s father helped win in 1985.

Even so, problems understandably can arise when college seniors have to adopt a new system with a staff of outsiders. Shepard, however, didn’t let it happen.

>> STERLING SHEPARD ROOKIE BLOG

“You can just tell with him, even in the year I was there, the love and the admiration that the people there have for him -- and that he had for the program,” Riley said on Big Blue Kickoff Live on Giants.com. “And I think that carried over to the passion, the way he played. He was such a good team guy. He was a great senior leader. They had a tough year two years ago, and a lot of us came in new last year and he was one of the key guys who really bought in, which a lot of times seniors don’t do or don’t have to do. And he was a huge figure in that.”

The Sooners went on to average 43.5 points per game, win the Big 12, and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.

“He’s one of those guys that Oklahoma Sooners fans will be talking about for as long as they play football there,” Riley said of the 122-year-old program. “He’s just almost a bigger-than-life figure there.”


Last season, Shepard caught 86 passes for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns while picking up All-America honors. In 50 games with 41 starts, he finished his career with 233 receptions for 3,482 yards and 26 scores.

Riley said Shepard’s two biggest assets are his strength and his ability to play fast, which he isn’t concerned about translating to the next level. Shepard is “strong by NFL standards” and his speed forced defensive coordinators to throw everything in the book at him.  

“Well, they tried a lot,” Riley said. “They didn’t do a very good job of it.”

Added Riley: “We were praying for people to play him in man [coverage]. Not only did he beat people, he would beat them just so bad that a lot of times that’s where his big plays would come after the catch -- because he won by so much on the route. So he’s tough to handle in man coverage situations, and I think he really developed a lot as far as having a feel when you play the zone teams and where the different soft spots are.”

Riley’s system, he admitted, takes time for receivers to master. But the challenge forced Shepard to take a giant leap in his last year.  

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“I also think too is he’s a kid that his ceiling is still much higher than where he’s at right now,” Riley said. “I think he improved a lot during his senior year. He obviously improved his draft stock and his draft position a lot throughout that last 12 months, but I think his best football is certainly ahead of him and I think he’s got a chance to be a great Giant.”

Shepard isn’t the only Giants receiver Riley had a hand in grooming.

Much like what happened in Oklahoma, Dwayne Harris had a new offensive staff, led by Riley, come in for his senior season at East Carolina in 2010. In his system, Harris enjoyed a prolific campaign in 2010, recording 101 catches for 1,123 yards and 10 touchdowns. The former Pirate went on to be drafted in the sixth round by Dallas, where he played four seasons before signing with the Giants last year.

“[Dwayne is] as tough as they come now, he is as tough as they come,” Riley said. “I look like a damn good coach because of those guys. I’m a Giants fan now. I might have to get my Giants gear out.”