A Football First

Among the numerous Stanford student-athletes on campus in July, the largest number is always football - 100% strong again this summer. Many eyes are on incoming freshman wide receiver Richard Sherman, who is sizzling hot fresh off his senior season of track at Dominguez High School. The attention on Sherman also derives from the path he is blazing as a first for a Stanford Football freshman...

Stanford's Football 2006 recruiting class had not only a myriad of sagas and twisting tales to follow leading up to Signing Day, but also several more stories for Cardinal signees after inking their paperwork.  A number of incoming Stanford gridders made waves in other winter and spring sports: wrestling, basketball, baseball, track and more.  One of the most closely watched stories was the track & field season of incoming wide receiver/cornerback Richard Sherman, which concluded just last month at the CIF State Track & Field Championships.

Sherman was one of the top performers at the state meet, held in Norwalk (Calif.) at Cerritos College.  And that is not casually constructed statement.  He qualified for the finals in four different events.  His banner achievement came in his best event, the triple jump, where he had set a personal best of 50'0" one week earlier in winning the CIF Southern Section Masters meet.  Sherman jumped a half-inch better in the preliminaries of the state championship, and then knocked out his two best ever jumps: 50'6" and 50'8".  The latter secured him a state title, as well as the mark to date as the fourth best triple jump by a high school boy this year.

In the long jump, Sherman did not have his best marks in the finals.  He broke 23' several times in recent meets, including a 23'8" at the San Gabriel Valley League championships and a 23'4.75" at the CIF Southern Section Division II championships.  At the state meet, Sherman showed a flash of his length in the preliminaries with a 23'2.75", but his 22'10.75" was the best he could muster in the finals.  While half a foot short of his expectations, that mark still earned him sixth place at Cerritos College.

For football enthusiasts looking for an event more closely resembling the athletic movements of the gridiron, Sherman's speed was on display in the 110 meter high hurdles.  As the Masters meet a week earlier, the 6'3" athlete notched a new personal best and broke the 14-second mark with a 13.99 performance that ranks as the third best by any California boy this year.  At the state meet, nobody cracked 14 seconds in the finals, and Sherman finished fourth with a mark of 14.37.  He ran a 14.13 in the preliminaries.

The one real disappointment came in the 4x100 meter relay.  Dominguez High School ran a fantastic 41.53, second best in the preliminaries behind rivals Notre Dame Sherman Oaks.  Those two were expected to vie for the title again in the finals, but Dominguez was disqualified when a pass was made outside the hand-off zone.

All in all, it was a mesmerizing two days for Sherman in the brightest spotlight for the most talented state in the nation for boys track & field.  In recognition of his track season, combined with his stellar championship campaign on the football field, Sherman was named last week as the State Division II Athlete of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports.

"All the hard work I was doing - it paid off," Sherman says of his track success.  "I peaked at the right time.  And I had no injuries this year, which meant I could be a lot more focused.  I was so hungry to win."

That hunger has carried Sherman from the track onto the football practice field this summer, where he is working out with his new Cardinal teammates on a daily basis.  All practices are voluntary and unofficial during the summer, but it was last Wednesday when the entire roster reported to start this summer's workouts.  Sherman, however, had been on campus for more than a week already - ahead of the rest of his classmates and many of the veterans.  He started summer school on June 27, the first ever such freshman enrollee for Stanford Football.

"It's an honor, but it also brings the pressure to perform," Sherman offers.  "But I think it's great."

The affable incoming freshman settled two weeks ago into his summer dorm, Lantana in Manzanita Park, with a pair of roommates familiar to Cardinalmaniacs™:  Landry Fields and Da'Veed Dildy, two incoming freshmen for Stanford Basketball.

"They're pretty cool.  I didn't know them real well, but we're having a great time," Sherman says.

While his roommates are hardcore on the hardcourt, Sherman has been focused on football.  Within 24 hours of moving into his dorm, he fielded a phone call from fifth-year senior Trent Edwards.  They hit the field for a quick start on throwing the ball and learning the routes of the Stanford offense.

"Actually, it hasn't been as hard getting used to the workouts and getting used to the weight room and the classes.  I'm in great shape from track, and the classes have not been as hard as I thought," Sherman shares.  "It's been the plays.  There are so many plays to learn."

A combination of speed, conditioning and youthful vigor have placed Sherman out in front during many of the team's conditioning runs so far, but he knows that he is back in the pack when it comes to the playbook.  Fortunately for him, the bright-eyed freshman has an experienced veteran in senior Mark Bradford to help show the way.

"Mark has been a tremendous help," the freshman praises.  "He's shown me what to do and what not to do, and what to expect at Stanford.  He's been a real mentor to me."

"He's taught me things about the campus and the coaches," Sherman continues.  "And he helps me on the field.  When we're running plays and I don't know what's going on, he shows me what to do."

Pointers on the essential places to know around campus.  How to handle classes and an academic workload amidst football practices and workouts.  The tricks of the trade with the Walt Harris offense.  These have all been part of conversations between Bradford and Sherman, as the senior helps to pass the baton to a fellow fab frosh wideout from Los Angeles.  But some of the most important advice has been how a Stanford man should handle himself on campus.

"Be polite," Sherman repeats.  "Don't walk around and be rude to people.  Just be a good guy.  You never know who you will run into and meet."

All of these lessons can be learned over the course of a freshman year.  What is so pressing for Sherman to become acclimated to The Farm with such a big head start?

Stanford returns only three scholarship wide receivers from last season, and only two of them have meaningful experience.  The search for a third wideout in 2006 is one of the most pressing questions for the Cardinal offense, and Sherman is a talented hopeful.  He is learning the "Z" position this summer behind Bradford, while also lining up as a third receiver in the slot on some plays.  The work he can accomplish this summer in learning Harris' offense, a task that took nearly a year for upperclassmen in 2005, will set the table for high hopes this fall.

"I have very high confidence that I'm going to play," Sherman boldly proclaims.  "I think I've been able to catch onto the plays, and I'm adjusting to the speed of the game.  Right now I just have to think more about where to go on each play."

The beauty, as well as the barrier, for wide receivers in Harris' offense is the reads made at the line of scrimmage.  With options on each play crafted specifically to react to the coverage provided by the defense, a wide receiver can almost guarantee to be open for play on every play - if he and his teammates execute properly.  The time it takes for Sherman to master those reads, and to do it quickly and consistently, holds the key to his on-field prospects in the 2006 season.

"I've known how to read defenses," he says.  "But now I'm having to read them much quicker."

Who is the toughest cornerback you've faced so far in practices?

"Nick Sanchez.  He's just so deceptive.  It's hard to know what coverage he is in."

Who has impressed you the most of the other incoming freshmen so far?

"Toby Gerhart is such a hard worker in the weight room.  But on the football field, Levirt Griffin is really determined to play."

Will you be running track at Stanford this first year as a freshman, or will that come later after you're settled in with football?

"That depends on how things go in football.  If it's going great, then I will definitely attempt to do both.  But if there are things I'm struggling with, then that may not be a good idea this year."

A big question during your recruitment was whether you would play receiver or cornerback.  It sounds like that answer is wide receiver for now?

"It's pretty much settled that I'll play receiver first.  I need to get the plays down first.  After that, then I'll go play some defense, too.  That would probably be more of a sophomore year thing."

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