Richard Sherman is well educated. More educated than what his Stanford education or childhood in Compton, California would suggest. More educated than one would have to be to excel at two different positions on both sides of the ball. Even more educated than what his own articulation and diction would lead you to believe. He is educated in the rollercoaster ride of the game of football. Throughout his high school and college career, Sherman has learned how to win, lose, and become a better athlete, student and person. The evolution, growth and maturation that this young man has experienced are remarkable.
If with trials and tribulations come the opportunity for growth and learning, Sherman is standing much taller than his own athletic 6’3” height would suggest. The Stanford Cardinals went a dismal 1-11 in his freshman year, the most losses in school history. They were shut out twice, lost to San Jose State and ended up being ranked 118th in the nation in scoring (10.6 points per game) and 108th in scoring defense (31.4 ppg); meaning they lost by an average of 3 TDs. Quite the transition for a player who was ranked the #6 athlete in California, #8 wide receiver in the state and led his high school to a division title, just 1 year prior.
“It was rough coming from high school,” Sherman told ESPN, “you don’t really know what to expect and then you come into that. It’s rough to not get wins. You work hard every week, you game plan every week, and things just don’t work out for you.
It’s obviously frustrating.”
If Sherman’s freshman year was the worst of times, then this past season was the best of times. The team literally turned it all around. Their embarrassing 1-11 mark 4 years earlier, was now one of the nation’s best at 11-1. Their record number of losses was now a record number of wins. That anemic offense was now ranked 9th in the nation in scoring and porous defense was now 10th.
Things had changed for Sherman and Stanford after 2006; a new head coach, star QB and a new position. When asked what prompted the move from WR to CB, in 2009, Sherman explained that it was based solely on team needs. That the team “needed help on defense. It was first on a temporary basis and then turned into a more permanent basis after spring ball.”
To many it seemed odd that a freshman WR that enjoyed the kind of year that Sherman did would voluntarily move positions 2 seasons later (one of which he only played 4 games due to a knee injury). After playing in 12 games and starting in 5, Sherman earned first team Pac-10 All-Freshman honors and Honorable Mention Freshman All-American honors from The Sporting News and was also named the team’s most outstanding freshman. He led the team in catches, receiving yards, and tied for the team led in both touchdowns and touchdown receptions. Sherman was also named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week following his performance against Washington when he caught six passes for 177 yards and a TD.
“The whole time I felt like I was a better corner than I was a receiver”, Sherman explained, “I thought I would get a chance to do both when I got (to Stanford). Obviously, I’ve gotten that chance, and I’m happy about that. But I’ve always liked defense better than the offense. You can control your destiny; you can control a lot more things on defense. But on offense, you can be open and want the ball, but have no impact on the game. But on defense, if you break up a deep ball, Hey, it’s a great day.”
The move was indeed odd to many onlookers, but definitely not to Sherman. He was very confident in taking all the football skills he had amassed playing QB, WR, CB, returning kicks and even lettering in track at Stanford (his 50’ jump in Triple Jump is 9th All-Time), that he would excel at the corner position for his junior and senior years.
With all the positions he had played, Sherman always brought a pencil and pad to the field. On commenting on what skills he had learned that would make him an elite corner, he pointed that, “ball skills and route recognition, come to mind first. It’s easier to know what routes are possibly coming if you’ve been in a receiver’s shoes. You can only do certain routes with certain splits and alignment, if a receiver’s foot is up, that changes things”
“Running track helped me tremendously with my burst and hurdles helped me loosen my hips. I also learned that individualized sports provide a different kind of competitiveness.”.
What resulted from all of these positions and skills, is a very unique corner. Scouts praise his athleticism, natural football instincts, leaping ability and tight footwork. Sherman can anticipate the opposing QB and WR, moves and thought processes, as he has been there. He had learned to be an excellent corner.
So great and respected, that in the 2010 Orange Bowl Sherman forced a Virginia Tech team that averaged over 400 yards of offense, to look elsewhere for plays.
“During my first year at CB, no one really knew who was the best; who would take the best WR. This year I stepped up; I took out the best players, especially in the Arizona and Notre Dame games and in the bowl game they threw to my side once. Shutting down one side of the field is the best thing that a corner could do.”.
Sherman enjoyed an outstanding senior year. After only having 1 full season at corner under his belt, he went on to start every game making 49 total tackles, with 4 INTs, 6 passes defended and 1 fumble recovery, cumulating in an All-Conference Honorable Mention; not bad for a second year CB.
It is difficult to pinpoint the one facet of his game where he accredits his success the most, but his attention to detail caches scouts’ eyes first and Sherman agrees, “I make sure my foot is in the ground and pointed in the direction I want to go; I make sure my eyes are perfect, I make sure I’m deep in this coverage. It’s more of the things within myself that I can control, that I focus on.”
The star corner’s learning process did not end at the conclusion of his senior year at Stanford. Training for the Senior Bowl, NFL combines and Stanford’s Pro Day, meant that he had to learn more about training and his own body.
“During the season we train for football. After, we train for drills and personalized techniques. As Pro Day and Combine drills are not the same, I have to train my body completely different.
“The Senior Bowl was a tremendous experience. It was the best against the best, with NFL coaches and it shows who is competitive. We had a great team. I learned a lot about how the NFL works, the coaches and the system and how I measure up against the best.”
And he definitely stands up against the best. Ted Miller from ESPN.com praised him, “Stanford CB Richard Sherman is very big but also real fast. Showed great instincts in the red zone drill, understood where the receiver was going and had enough skill to redirect and/or impede without committing a penalty. Made a couple of good adjustments on the fly, has the balance to change direction quickly and charge under control. He is visibly better than Chris Cook, a CB with similar size who went at the top of the 2nd round last year. The coaches in attendance gushed over him.
NFL.com’s Pat Kirwan definitely agrees, “Sherman has an outstanding back pedal and could excel as a zone corner. Once he sticks his foot in the ground and closes, he gets to the ball almost immediately.
He was so quick in his break one time, that he actually forced a quarterback to come off his first read — not all that common in a Senior Bowl practice, where the conditions benefit the offense.
Sherman is one of the main prospects on the North team who has jumped out at me as I watch the defensive backs practice, and he deserves some more attention moving forward.“
It may have been due to the traditionally non-football college he attended and/or the mass assumption that his coach got a bunch of average players to overachieve, but Sherman did not get the attention he deserved, even after solid Pro Day and Combine performances.
But even here, he has learned to take it all in stride, “I was frustrated at the beginning. They (the media) hold the position change and going to Stanford against me. I showed what I can do and teams can see what I believe – that I am one of the best out there.
When asked what class made that largest impact on him, Sherman answered, “Sign Language. The art of signing is a very unique skill to have. Working with a teacher who is deaf and trying to interact, and learn at the same time, is an experience. It was such a different way of looking at things. Of all the classes I’ve taken, that was one that really brought me in to that kind of learning.”
Sherman’s journey has been extraordinary. He has learned to survive in arguably one of America’s toughest neighborhoods to learning at of America’s most prestigious colleges. He learned a new position, new techniques and philosophies on one of the best teams in the nation and in a very competitive conference.
But most importantly, it’s what Richard has learned about himself that is most impressive, “I ‘ve learned that I have come a long way. A long journey from high school to now. I learn a lot about myself and my body through the training process. About dedication and patience because you never know what’s gonna happen with the CBA, the team, the workouts so you just gotta stay confident through it all.”.
The NFL needs rookies who can learn new positions, techniques and philosophies as quickly and thorough as how Sherman has. He has a tremendous amount of skill and technique to add to most team’s secondary and will be a mid round steal for any team that wants a true student of the game.
And what team wouldn’t?