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Former Oklahoma star Sterling Shepard makes his Heisman Trophy picks

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard has a rooting interest in this year’s Heisman Trophy presentation on Saturday night, even if he’s torn on who he wants to win.

That's because one of the candidates was his quarterback at Oklahoma. The other was his wide receiving counterpart at Oklahoma.

Yes, the Sooners have a pair of Heisman candidates with quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook in New York this weekend as finalists. Shepard is pulling hard for one of them to take home the hardware.

“Both those guys definitely deserve it,” said Shepard, who is enjoying a successful rookie season after being selected in the second round out of Oklahoma. “I’m pulling for them.”

Mayfield and Westbrook will be in Manhattan along with Michigan all-purpose weapon Jabrill Peppers, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The Oklahoma players are considered significant underdogs. It doesn’t matter to Shepard. He’s amazed at the growth both have shown and proud they've made it this far.

Westbrook traveled a unique path to the Heisman presentation. It took him through Blinn Community College in Texas before landing in Norman, Oklahoma. Westbrook had 46 receptions for 743 yards and four touchdowns playing alongside Shepard last season.

This year: 74 catches for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Westbrook became the first Sooner to win the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s top receiver earlier this week. Shepard’s proud, but not surprised, of what he has become.

“He’s always had it in him. I remember at the time where I was like, ‘Dede, you’re leaving stuff out on the field. You can turn that into a touchdown play instead of a 30-yard gain,’” said Shepard, who met up with his former teammate Friday afternoon. “He sat down and thought about it and shoot, he’s done more than that this season.

“I’m just happy to see that this season. It’s just great to see guys improve like that.”

Mayfield also isn’t the same player Shepard saw when he was at Oklahoma. He’s an improved version.

The key from Shepard’s perspective is that Mayfield wanted to become better in the pocket and worked hard to accomplish his goal this year.

“He wanted to become more of a pocket passer, and he’s done that,” said Shepard, who remembers getting together with Mayfield before summer workouts in past years to refine their crafts. “He would get out of the pocket when there was no need to. Now you can see him, he has a lot of confidence in his O-line. He’s stepping up into the pocket while still looking downfield. He doesn’t have to roll out to make plays. You can see that in his game has changed a lot. He still gets out of the pocket and makes throws when he needs to. It’s good to have a quarterback like that.”

Mayfield threw 38 touchdown passes this season; 16 were to Westbrook. Despite the damage they’ve done, Shepard knows his Oklahoma brethren are long shots to win the award. He expects Jackson to take home the Heisman as the Sooners split some of the votes.

But he's fully invested. He’ll be pulling hard for his former teammates.

“Without a doubt I want one of those guys to win it. It would be great. I’d be happy,” Shepard said. “If it doesn’t happen, it’s an honor to be there. I’m proud of those guys for being there.”