‘Just a blessing’
Former county football star stays gracious in pursuit of NFL dreams
— On Saturday night, under the white lights of Maryland Stadium, a former Cecil County high school football star stood in his team’s colors — these days, green and white. It was Gabe Sherrod, a 22-year-old defensive end for Michigan State, back playing the game that opened so many doors for him in the state where he learned how to play it.
Maybe you’ve seen a movie like this, where the hometown player makes a game-winning play in front of friends and family who have known him since he was small enough to hold. Often, reality is not as sweet.
In this story, the Spartans lose to the Maryland Terrapins 28-17, and Sherrod never comes off the sidelines. He’s seen diminished playing time in recent weeks as the reeling Michigan State (2-5) coaching staff has instead afforded more snaps to those who will return next year. Sherrod, a fifthyear graduate transfer, is in his final year of NCAA eligibility.
But the former Perryville High School basketball and football standout, who as a senior quarterback in 201112 led his team to a dream season and the state finals, is apparently not letting it get to him. He believes he can make it to the NFL and has plans to train for it when this season ends. Above all, he’s gracious for what the game has given him.
“Who do you know from Cecil County that went to the Big Ten to play any type of sport?” Sherrod said. “From where I was as a kid playing Pop Warner football at Perryville Middle School
for practices, and practicing in the backyard, and having pickup football games down by the water behind the townhouses they built in Perryville, to be on this stage is just amazing. To look back and see how far I’ve made it, it’s just a blessing.”
Sherrod has made it a long way. After graduating high school in 2012, he took up a scholarship to play wide receiver at Delaware State University, a Division 1 FCS program. He redshirted his first season and served a limited role the next year, but found new footing in 2014, after making a position switch to defensive end. He logged 46 tackles — 7.5 for a loss — and five sacks.
In 2015, he built on that success, starting in 11 games and emerging as a defensive force. He ended the season with 64 tackles and eight sacks, and ranked second in all of the FCS in tackles for loss, with 25. His dominant performances earned him a spot on both the HBCU All-America team and the All-MEAC First Team.
With interest in him as a graduate transfer high, he decided to make a soft commitment to play at Syracuse University. In mid-June, however, that school reneged on its scholarship offer due to Sherrod’s interest in Michigan State, including a rumored visit there (Sherrod said he wanted to play on the biggest stage possible, and the Spartans were fresh off an appearance in the College Football Playoff). On July 5, he announced on Twitter that he’d be transferring to Michigan State, and he joined the team later that month.
“The transition wasn’t hard in terms of speed, in terms of strength. It was just, you know, guys had better technique here,” Sherrod said. “There’s certain things here that they want defensive ends to do that don’t give you
as much free rein as I had at Del. State. It was hard trying to put what I bring to the table in, kind of, a box.”
Samuel Ritchie, a Cecil County resident who’s trained Sherrod pro bono since his junior year in high school, said the same thing. He has no doubt about Sherrod’s work ethic or his drive to improve, he just thinks he needs more time.
“He’s only been a defensive end for — this will probably be his third year altogether,” Ritchie said. “Once he gets a better technique, it’s really going to help him.”
But Sherrod might make another position change before attempting to enter the NFL. At 6-foot-3 or -4 (depending on the source) and around 250 pounds, he feels he may be better suited at outside linebacker or tight end. He hasn’t decided yet.
Just before midnight after Saturday’s game, Sherrod and a small
group of his family and friends talked about 20 yards off from the Michigan State buses. He has said repeatedly that these people mean the world to him, that, for instance, he talks to his mother Rosalind Allen all the time, and he thanked them for coming. He and I made eye contact, and when we stepped off to the side, I asked if he felt any regret for making the move to Michigan State, now that he’s been asked to serve more as a mentor to the freshmen than as a player himself.
“Not at all,” Sherrod said, smiling as if even the premise of the question was absurd. “I’m just blessed to have the opportunity to be here and actually do what big-time college students do. I’ll get my shot at the next level, but right now I just got to stay the course and be positive.”
Then he said his goodbyes to the people there and stepped up the stairs to join his teammates on the bus. Within minutes, some policemen moved their motorcycles into formation and flipped their lights on. The bus engines heaved, took the wide left turn out of the parking lot, and they were gone.
Michigan State senior defensive end and Perryville graduate Gabe Sherrod, right, makes a move at the line of scrimmage during a game against Notre Dame earlier this season.
Michigan State senior defensive end and Perryville graduate Gabe Sherrod rushes the quarterback during a game against Notre Dame earlier this season.