He plans to be one of the best linebackers ever to play at Texas. He wants to be a leader and role model who helps Texas win a national championship. His nicknames in high school were “Cecil The Diesel” and “Head Hunter” (he prefers Cecil the Diesel “because people know I’m comin’ for ‘em.”)
He patterns his mindset and play after Ray Lewis, a Florida boy whose mantra is, “You gotta be pissed off for greatness.”
Being a part of maybe the best linebacker recruiting haul in 2015 – along with Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler, Cameron Townsend and Breckyn Hager – doesn’t mean anything unless they all “work, prepare and play like the best.”
And he’s confident those in his recruiting class, many of whom he takes pride in helping recruit, are going to come in and make a difference.
“It’s going to fit together perfect, because everybody has to do their job. If you’re not coming to do your job, why come to the university?” Cherry said.
“We got guys coming in who want to be a leader, who kids are going to look up to. We got guys who kids want to be like. We don’t have guys coming in who want to be like other people.”ROAD 27 – ONE ROAD OUT
When I asked Cherry, who always seems to be upbeat with a smile on his face, why he’s so willing to put his goals out there and forecast such big things, he said, “You don’t understand where I’m from. Your first goal growing up in Frostproof, Florida, is to get out of Frostproof, Florida.
“A Florida guy from my area knows there’s only one road in and out – Road 27. And I’m getting on 27 to get out of here.
“If you’re not a football or basketball player growing up in Frostproof, you’re selling drugs or doing drugs or going to jail,” Cherry said. “I’ve seen a lot of tough stuff, but I fought adversity and got through it.”
Cherry’s father, Winston Cherry Sr., works for the city, and Cecil said he’s grown up “helping pick up trash in the parks” with his dad since he was a kid. Cecil said he has 24 siblings.
“My papa was a rolling stone,” he said. “He has 19 kids, and my mom had six.”
Despite those family dynamics, Cecil said he and his dad are “Sanford and son close.”
Cherry said he and his father knew Cecil had made the right decision to attend Texas when Charlie Strong made his in-home visit and gave Cecil a hard time (about eating too much cake).
“Without my papa, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. He taught me about life and taught me about the game of football,” Cecil said.BIG PLANS, BIG DREAMS
Ask Cherry if he sees himself as Texas’ middle linebacker of the future, and he takes you in a completely different direction.
“I see myself as a big role model for the university and for the fans and for kids from a small town like me who may think there’s no hope because they are in a small town with no way out,” Cherry said.
“But I want to show them they can get out and go to college. I see kids who want to be like me – play how way I play and be a man who handles their business off the field the way I do and who has a good personality and who is a good person. I want to be remembered, not forgotten.”
Ask him if he plans to start as a freshman, and he says “the Notre Dame game.”
But Cherry said it will be earned with a relentless work ethic.
“Us guys from Florida, we come with an edge,” Cherry said. “We come ready to work to win. We don’t come just to play. Playing’s not enough. You gotta win. If people think they’ve seen some highlights of me on film, they haven’t seen nothing, because I’m working to get better every day.”
The ultimate linebacker who grew up in Florida, in Cherry’s mind, is Ray Lewis.
“I always look at Ray Lewis’ film, because you have to be pissed off for greatness,” Cherry said. “He’s not OK with being mediocre. He’s not OK being babied. No man should want to be babied. I want to be afraid of being taken off the field, because that keeps you hungry.”
Cherry takes pride in all the recruiting efforts he made toward fellow members of the 2015 class.
“It wasn’t just some. It was a lot,” Cherry said. “I was calling, texting and using Twitter, too.”
Cherry sees and hears people say Texas may have the best defensive recruiting class in the country in 2015 – and more specifically the best group of linebackers with himself, Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler, Cameron Townsend and Bryce Hager. But Cherry says that’s only words.
“It could be the best group of linebackers on paper,” Cherry said. “But we’ve got to work the best. We’ve got to compete the best. We got to replace words and show we’re the best.”COMING TOGETHER
Cherry said he spent a lot of time reaching out to Malik Jefferson during recruiting and have continued to talk since.
“Me and Malik have been chatting every day,” Cherry said. “Me and him are building a relationship bond together that is going to make things happen.”
When I asked what he likes about Jefferson, Cherry said, “I like the way he gets to the ball with a little bit of hype in him.
“That’s what I want to see. I want to see a band of brothers jumping up together when we’re making plays.”
Cherry said that passion is also what he liked about Texas coach Charlie Strong.
“Everybody would want their child playing for Charlie Strong if they want to be great,” Cherry said. “Everyone knows his linebackers leave college as NFL players and as better men.
“When it’s business, it’s all about business. But he’ll talk to you about life, joke around with you and jump up when you make a play. That’s the kind of coach I want to play for. He’s the top dog, but he keeps it real with you.”CECIL THE DEISEL
Cherry played on the varsity when he was in eighth grade and remembers when he arrived as a high school football player. It was a collision with former FSU RB Karlos Williams of Davenport (Fla).
“I was small,” Cherry said. “He was a senior. I was in eighth grade. But I popped him. He went one way. I went the other way, and the ball went up in the air.
“My high school coach said that was when college coaches started asking, ‘Who is this boy?’ and started writing my name down.”
Cherry loves to hit. It shows on film.
“I don’t care how big you are, you’re gonna get hit,” Cherry said.
He learned that as an eighth grader.
“Playing as an eighth grader, I was going up against a running back 5-11, 240, benching 405 – going head to head against him every day,” Cherry said.
“And going against linemen going to Florida State who are heavy, getting blocked by them, pinching you in your nuts, poking you with pens. It wasn’t fun. It was nasty. I had no choice but to be a man after that, because I saw what I was getting myself into.“
Cherry said he loves playing inside linebacker because, “You get to be physical and nasty and punish anyone that comes up the middle or across the middle like receivers. What better job is there playing the game you love?”
And he never stops talking during a game.
“I’m gonna talk and tell ‘em, ‘You better not run this way or you gonna get whapped.’ And then when it happens, I’m gonna say, ‘I told you what was going to happen.’”
Cherry said he can’t wait to get to Texas and start making his dreams come true.
“When I meet people, they may not know my story and what I’ve been through in life,” Cherry said. “For me, this scholarship is the only way for me to make it out.
“I’ve been doubted more than you know. So my goal coming in as a freshman is to go handle business, because I’ve had people doubt me, fans cuss me and try to make me doubt me.
“It’s a dream to be a Texas Longhorn, representing the Cherry family name. I’m a small-town guy looking to make a big name.
“Not every person gets to go to college, so I have to be thankful for every moment I have to go to college and play football and get a degree at the same time. It’s a dream come true, so I’m just going to come in with the right mindset.”
Cherry said he knows reaching all of his goals won’t be easy. He won’t be babied. It will take a grinding work ethic to get there. But he said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m going to get me a degree at a school I really wanted to go to,” he said. “I’m playing for the best coach in the country at the best university in the country, and I’m playing for the best fans in the country. Hook ‘em.”
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