Sherit a key leader for Ga­tors’ de­fen­sive line

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS FRIDAY - By Ian Co­hen

GAINESVILLE — Last sea­son, dur­ing the third quar­ter of Flor­ida’s loss to Flor­ida State, Jor­dan Sherit’s knee gave out. The Ga­tors had two games left on their sched­ule — an SEC ti­tle game against top-ranked Alabama and a bowl game against Iowa — and Sherit couldn’t play in ei­ther of them. He had to go through re­ha­bi­la­tion.

That rehab con­tin­ued into the spring, where he stood on the side­line of Flor­ida’s prac­tice fields and could only look on, watch­ing his team­mates run drills. Sherit re­mem­bers won­der­ing when — and if — he would play again.

“Do I want to come back?” he thought. “Do I want to put my­self through this again?” The an­swer came quickly. “With­out ques­tion,” Sherit said af­ter a prac­tice this week. “And I feel like this might be my best year.”

Sherit, a red­shirt se­nior, is the old­est and most ex­pe­ri­enced mem­ber of Flor­ida’s de­fen­sive line, fi­nally healthy af­ter sus­tain­ing a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury last year. He is the un­ques­tioned leader of the young group, the one who team­mates af­fec­tion­ately call “Papo” — a Cuban term that Sherit said means “bro” — a nod to his her­itage.

He’s the role model for the eight un­der­class­men on UF’s de­fen­sive line, the wise old man, the one who UF coach Jim McEl­wain es­ti­mated was old enough to babysit some of the fresh­men when Sherit was in high school.

He’s the one in the meet­ing room that com­mands si­lence from his chat­ting team­mates when it’s time to get to work and be­gin film study.

He’s the one who put his arm around fresh­man Eli­jah Con­liffe as they walked off the prac­tice field on Tues­day, re­as­sur­ing the rookie af­ter de­fen­sive line coach Chris Rumph scolded Con­liffe af­ter a sub­par prac­tice.

“You can’t help but re­spect the guy,” Rumph said.

His team­mates and coaches clearly do, Rumph said. And with his play this sea­son, op­po­nents are start­ing to as well.

Sherit leads Flor­ida with seven quar­ter­back hur­ries. He also has 19 tack­les, 4.5 tack­les for loss and two sacks, both of which came dur­ing UF’s sea­son opener against Michi­gan.

He recorded five quar­ter­back hur­ries in a win against Van­der­bilt on Sept. 30, his most pro­duc­tive game in a Flor­ida uni­form, cre­at­ing chaos in the Com­modores’ back­field and meet­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions his team­mates had for him since the sea­son be­gan.

“His name is papo for a rea­son,” safety Chauncey Gard­ner said. “Big Daddy. That’s what he do.”

Sherit, a 6-foot-4, 254-pounder, is at the cen­ter of what UF is try­ing to ac­com­plish as a de­fen­sive line — pres­sure the quar­ter­back and fill the run­ning lanes. He’s on pace for his best sea­son since ar­riv­ing at Flor­ida in 2013. And he knows it.

“I al­ways thought I was al­ways that one step away, whether it was the knee, some­thing didn’t feel right or a health thing,” Sherit said. “That’s why I was so bummed that last year ended the way it did.”

He said he feels he made the right de­ci­sion by re­turn­ing to UF for one more year, but it has also slowly started to dawn on him that he won’t get an­other sea­son.

He re­al­ized it last week, when he thought about how Satur­day would be his last time play­ing LSU. How Oct. 28 will be his last time play­ing Ge­or­gia. How this sea­son will be his last in a Ga­tors uni­form.

And he wants to make the most of it, con­tin­u­ing with Texas A&M on Satur­day.

“My days in The Swamp are num­bered,” Sherit said. “That’s why I have to cher­ish ev­ery bit of time I get.”

TOM PEN­NING­TON/GETTY IM­AGES

Jor­dan Sherit (17) leads Flor­ida with seven quar­ter­back hur­ries. He also has 19 tack­les and two sacks, both of which came dur­ing UF’s sea­son opener against Michi­gan.

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