‘Just a bless­ing’

Former county foot­ball star stays gra­cious in pur­suit of NFL dreams

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By JOE ANTOSHAK

jan­toshak@ches­pub.com

— 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

COL­LEGE PARK

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 ATH­LETIC COM­MU­NI­CA­TIONS

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 ATH­LETIC COM­MU­NI­CA­TIONS

Michi­gan State se­nior de­fen­sive end and Perryville grad­u­ate Gabe Sher­rod rushes the quar­ter­back dur­ing a game against Notre Dame ear­lier this sea­son.

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