Of course Sherrod would be putting all that off-, in-, and pre-season experience to maximum use this final State summer anyway. After one redshirt year and three varsity seasons he is ready to end his college career on a high note. So do his two fellow seniors at tight end, Eric Butler and Jason Husband, who all are applying their combined tenures to preparing themselves and motivating the underclassmen.
"Being out there and knowing what you're supposed to do not only helps you on the field but it helps the teammates," says Sherrod. "And I can be more in a leadership position. We've been working hard, conditioning and working in the weightroom getting ready for August 30."
Come opening night, Mississippi State can put easily the most veteran group of tight ends in the SEC on the field. Even at the same time if need be, since this is also a varied collection of talents. Sherrod falls into the mode of the classic Bulldog tight end, a run-blocker and pass-protector. Butler is a mix of both better known for his receiving and school position-touchdown records. And Husband, who came to State as a wideout, is the downfield threat. "Yeah, all of us have different specialties," Sherrod agrees.
"I'm more of the blocking tight end. But," he quickly adds, "I also can catch the ball. Everyone has different roles on the team and we know our roles. That helps the team as a whole because we're not selfish players, it's all for the team. And we all need to play." Indeed they do, and in 2006 Sherrod started six times, Butler six, and Husband twice. Look for the same mix-and-match pattern for the three seniors.
"Coach Croom considers all of us starting tight ends so any of can start any given time. We're just out there supporting each other." And, based on spring practices, supporting the offensive scheme with more than blocking; State might not go crazy throwing to the tight ends but the staff does intend to take advantage of their individual and collective talents when the situations are just right. There aren't many such settings Sherrod & cohorts haven't seen, either.
"Me and the rest of the tight ends, we've been out there a while. The experience counts." Enough so that Sherrod can hope to catch more than his two balls of '06; he has seven receptions for the career but has yet to get into the end zone. That's alright, he says. Blocking is his forte anyway and he'll be just as thrilled to lead Anthony Dixon across the goal line as if he scored himself.
Not that the tight end will have to clear the way himself. Sherrod better than most can appreciate the progress made in the past two seasons by the five guys who also block, without the compensation of eligible-receiver status. He predicts a breakthrough year for the Bulldog offensive line in 2007.
"I know they're going to step through this year. As you could see the second half of (last) season when they were all together the statistics, the relationships all showed. They're going to start it off right and we're going to be right there with them."
Speaking of ‘with them' brings to mind Sherrod's intangible duty this season. He is willing to accept leadership responsibilities, and able after proving himself over three tough campaigns of few rewards and no complaints. This is one reason why the entire team's attitude has turned around in time for his senior year. The younger pups look up to the handful of upperclassmen on this roster. "If we do what we're supposed to do then it kind of rubs off on the rest of the team," Sherrod says.
"The few seniors we have, we're going to try to step up and make this last year very special so we can pass on the torch to the rest of the guys after we leave. But this is the year that we're going to shine through." Goodness knows Sherrod has paid his dues to get here, and there's nothing he wants more than to leave State a winner.
"It means the world to me. Because we've had a lot of close games, a lot of tough seasons. But this is the year that I believe we're really going to make a mark. And this is my last year and I'm trying to make it the best year that I can." If he does that well enough, this won't be Sherrod's last year of football. Two weeks ago he heard a former Bulldog tight end and native of the same northeast Mississippi area talk of how he made the big leagues despite catching fewer balls than he played games at State. Reggie Kelly has showed it can be done.
"That gave me hope!" Sherrod says. "Because you know, you have the perception that the only tight ends that go to the league are the ones who catch 100 passes and stuff! But when I see he caught only 13 and was a blocking tight end, and knowing that's my role, that gives me hope that perhaps someday I can go to the NFL."
That's a year away though; first Sherrod has Bulldog business to take care of, with only a couple of summer workout days left before real practices start August 1. It's given a bit more incentive to the weight and running work this week, he says.
"We're trying to finish up, we have our conditioning tests coming up soon and after that it's time to strap on the helmets and get to work." Work the tight end is looking forward to, even if it sometimes means lining up against defensive end Titus Brown. There's no better way to prepare for SEC season than banging helmets with the all-conference candidate…though Sherrod knows better than to try matching Brown in trash-talking. "Even if he does lose he's going to have something to say!"
Oh, and there's one extra item of interest in Sherrod's final fall with State. He's been joined by baby (one weighing 50 pounds more) brother Derek, a freshman offensive linemen on the roster. Dezmond would love to play some snaps with his sibling this season but knows Derek is tentatively booked to redshirt in 2007. Still the kid has earned favorable attention since coming to campus this month.
"Oh, he's doing very well," Dezmond reports. "Amazingly he's been keeping up with the running despite only being here a short few weeks working out. And I haven't seen it but I know his weightlifting is improving." Needless to say Derek will have another advantage, in an old-Dog brother who can give him tips and show him some of the ropes he had to learn the hard way.
And, over a hard varsity haul that Sherrod truly believes is about to pay off. After all, there's one experience he has yet to enjoy—playing with a winning team. 2007 is his last and best chance to do it. "I'm glad I redshirted to make this my final year and I'm ready to make up for last year."