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Prep parade: Kingfisher product Jace Sternberger bet on himself and won entering NFL Draft

With each game three years ago, Jace Sternberger grew frustrated.

He had one 5-yard reception to his name over a 10-game span in a Kansas uniform. The Jayhawks were rotating offensive play callers faster than he wanted to count.

That was not what Sternberger signed up for his senior year at Kingfisher High School. It was time for a change.

And sometimes the best change comes when you go back to your roots.

“I knew I was good at football,” Sternberger said. “My thing was just more like getting there.”

The place Sternberger rediscovered himself was Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, the state’s lone junior college program. He wanted a place to play and work his way back to Division I football.

It was a leap of faith that would ultimately pay off in a huge way.

As the NFL Draft opens Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee, perhaps no player has taken such a winding journey through college football. Sternberger went from unknown Division I tight end to a junior college star to an SEC star and now a likely second-round draft pick.

The 6-foot-4, 251-pound Sternberger is one of the top tight ends following a breakout year at Texas A&M. Once his name is called, he’ll become only the first Kingfisher product taken in the NFL Draft since Curtis Lofton in 2008.

He credits his lone year in junior college for the opportunity.

“Not that I needed to be humbled, but it was like I got back to the basics and everything was good,” Sternberger said.

When Sternberger arrived on NEO’s campus in Miami, he immediately felt at home.

Miami High School was struggling on Friday nights, so the community rallied around NEO on Saturdays. It felt like Kingfisher all over again.

NEO certainly utilized Sternberger. He caught 21 passes for 336 yards and six touchdowns.

“Everyone was on the same mission,” Sternberger said. “That is a pitstop. We all wanted to help each other get out.”

Pretty soon, his teammates were joking that Sternberger could one day play in the NFL. He laughed it off, even as he signed with Texas A&M and new coach Jimbo Fisher.

The NFL simply felt a long way from reality, until it didn’t.

At Texas A&M last spring, coaches started to mention the NFL more and more to Sternberger. Still, he didn’t believe it to be possible.

But then he caught a touchdown pass at Alabama, celebrated behind the end zone and realized he had arrived. By the end of the season, he caught 47 passes for 804 yards and 10 TDs.

Sternberger was a star, nationally and at home.

“It’s awesome just for the fact of seeing where he came from,” Kingfisher coach Jeff Myers said. “I’m proudest of him because having the guts to have a leap of faith. Everything worked out.”

Sternberger spent the past four months preparing for this weekend.

He traveled the country visiting NFL teams, holding private workouts and training. His performance at the combine was more about his field work and his interviews.

He answered question after question about why he left Kansas. He had bet on himself and won big.

“I can’t say I expected to be here, but when you put in the preparation like I did and stay true to yourself you never know what can happen,” Sternberger said. “That’s why it really is a blessing.”

Related Photos
<strong>Former Kingfisher player Jace Sternberger   is projected to be taken in the second round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Former Kingfisher player Jace Sternberger is projected to be taken in the second round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3cf800acaa38fd7a696446914764c5d2.jpg" alt="Photo - Former Kingfisher player Jace Sternberger is projected to be taken in the second round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Former Kingfisher player Jace Sternberger is projected to be taken in the second round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Former Kingfisher player Jace Sternberger is projected to be taken in the second round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Jacob Unruh

Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the... Read more ›

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