What a small world it is.
Those of us who have coached for a couple of decades know that if you hang around long enough chances are that you will coach (or coach against) a pro athlete.
It’s amazing to think of the connectedness of life—-and how knowing one person can lead to knowing many more.
Back in the 1980s, Jack Johnson and I were teachers, dorm masters and football/basketball/baseball coaches at Avon Old Farms School, a private boating school for boys near Hartford, CT.
Avon Old Farms boasted one of the strongest athletic programs in New England.
My hands are still sore from catching Jack’s laser beam passes. He was a highly touted QB at North Attleboro High School (MA), but a devastating knee injury his senior year prevented him from playing Division 1 football.
One of the perks of coaching at Avon was being so close to the ESPN headquarters in the neighboring town of Bristol. One night I had a brief and humorous chat with Chris Berman while waiting in line at a local restaurant. On another occasion, I spent several hours in a Hartford disco along side of Charlie Steiner, who was even more of a hoot off the camera than on it.
At Avon we had a fair number of players go on to play in all three divisions of college football. The one player we coached who made it to the NFL was FB Chris Hetherington, who, after starring as the QB at Yale, started at FB for ten years (1996-2006) with the Colts, Raiders, Panthers, Rams and 49ers.
By the early 90s Jack and I had left Avon to pursue public school teaching and coaching jobs. As fate would have it, Jack returned to North Attleboro, his alma mater, to teach English and coach varsity football and baseball. And I wound up at NA’s main rival in the Hockomock League, Foxboro High School, as an English teacher and varsity basketball coach.
North Attleboro and Foxboro engaged in many epic “friday night lights” football battles—-and one that I remember most vividly was a narrow victory Foxboro had, despite the fact that North Attleboro’s captain and Massachusetts 2006 Gatorade Player of the Year, RB/LB Anthony Sherman did just about everything humanly possible to win the game. In that game Sherman rushed for 136 yards, 2 TDs and delivered 20 tackles.
As it turned out, the next week Sherman led his Rocketeers to a stunning upset over an undefeated Mansfield team which ensured a three way tie between NA, Foxboro and Mansfield for the Hockomock League Championship.
Having watched Sherman in action, i was desperately hoping he would go to Boston College, my alma mater. He wound up going to UConn instead, where he became the starting FB as a freshman and where he was the lead blocker for 2 Big East Offensive Players of the Year in Donald Brown (2008) and Jordan Todman (2010).
You can imagine my elation when on the third day of the 2011 NFL Draft, the Cardinals selected FB Anthony Sherman in the 5th round at pick 136. The first person I called was Jack Johnson. We subsequently rejoiced in the selection over a few light refreshments.
Back in those days, the Cardinals were making a habit of using a 5th or a 6th round pick to select the best possible special teams’ player (i.e. Justin Bethel). At UConn, Anthony Sherman was the special teams captain and was widely acknowledged as one of the top ST’s players in college football—-if not the best.
Sherman was off to a solid start in his 1st two years with the Cardinals, but after Steve Keim and Bruce Arians were hired as GM and head coach, they promptly shipped Sherman to the Chiefs for backup CB Javier Arenas. I happened to be talking with Jack Johnson a couple of days before the trade and he told me that the trade was already agreed to. Man, that one hurt. For two days I was praying that it wouldn’t happen.
At that time I had been writing a series of articles called “Cardinal Tough” and lamenting how the Cardinals often seemed to be one of the softest teams in the NFL. Even though Bruce Arians did not believe in using a FB in his offense, I felt that it was a major mistake to trade one of the team’s best special teams players. After all, the Patriots and other top teams always keep 3 STs players who hardly ever play on offense or defense—-but that’s how much those teams value STs.
In retrospect, whether one believes the Cardinals should have kept Sherman for STs or not, that trade was one of the worst and most-lopsided trades the Cardinals have ever made.
Sherman was an instant success in Kansas City where he was named 1st team All-Pro in 2013 and 2014 by Pro Football Focus, and 2nd team All-Pro in 2014 by the Associated Press.
Javier Arenas never quite fit in to Todd Bowles’ defense (12 tackles, 1 sack, 0 interceptions in 16 games). He was signed as a free agent by the Falcons in 2014, where he played in only 6 games and hasn’t made an NFL roster since.
Meanwhile, over the past few years, Anthony Sherman has become somewhat of a cult hero in Kansas City, showing up for training camp in red, white and blue overalls and starred and striped bandanas and cowboy boots.
This year after the Chiefs’ week 1 win in LA versus the Chargers, Andy Reid smiled from ear to ear when asked about Anthony Sherman’s 36 yard TD catch (on a wheel route up the left sideline) and called Sherman a “sausage with hands.” This drew applause and cheers from Patrick Mahomes who was delighted to see his FB get some added press.
Check out what Peter Schrager has to say about Sherman’s unsung role in the Chiefs’ success:
Andy Reid went on to say about Sherman, “He’s a tough kid, smart. I imagine that at one time he’ll be good coach. That’s probably the direction he wants to go when it’s all said and done. He’ll be good at that if he chooses to do. The guy knows everything that’s going on — that’s what gives us the flexibility to put him in as a tight end and also play him as a fullback.” (https://www.kansascity.com/sports/nfl/kansas-city-chiefs/article219940760.html)
For months and weeks we have been arguing back and forth about the value of a good fullback in today’s NFL....not only in hammering iso blocks on linebackers, but in being triple threats in the red zone/short yardage situations and in being highly spirited, hard-hat type of leaders on special teams.
Man, I loved that Anthony Sherman was an Arizona Cardinal and I wish he still was. In my opinion, there will always be a special place for sausages (tough guys) in the NFL, regardless of the position. Especially sausages with hands.