Sunday soreness is a simple fact of life for most college football players. But last Sunday’s soreness reached a new level for Eastern Washington University’s J.C. Sherritt, who found himself struggling to recover – mentally and physically – from a disappointing 31-13 loss to Weber State University.
“It was a tough morning all around,” the Eagles’ junior strong-side linebacker said. “I was definitely beat up and moving a little slow, but that’s what happens.”
Especially when you get involved in 24 tackles like Sherritt did against the Wildcats, setting a single-game school record. He also intercepted a pass and returned it 36 yards for one of EWU’s two touchdowns.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder from Pullman made seven solo stops – two for losses – and assisted on 17 others to erase Greg Belzer’s previous mark of 23 set in 1998 against Portland State.
In addition, he raised his season tackles total to 84 and his per-game average to 14, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky and third nationally among NCAA Football Championship Subdivision schools.
Sherritt’s abilities have drawn notice, as the Sports Network added him to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list on Thursday. The award goes to the top defensive player in the FCS.
Even those who watch him at practice each day have trouble determining Sherritt’s greatest attribute as a sideline-to-sideline defender. But they all agree he has a special talent for running down ball carriers and closing the deal once he arrives.
“He has a great knack for sniffing out the football, and once he gets to it, he makes the play,” said Beau Baldwin, the Eagles’ second-year head coach. “He does not miss tackles.”
Linebackers coach Jeff Schmedding is a big fan of Sherritt’s non-stop motor.
“He doesn’t necessarily have that great size or blinding speed, but he plays full tilt for four quarters,” he said. “You never see him jogging anywhere. He’s not tall, but he’s strong. He also has a good burst that always seems to get him around the football, and when you’re around the football, good things tend to happen.”
As a senior at Pullman High, Sherritt led the Greyhounds to a 14-0 record and State 2A championship. He was named the Seattle Times 2A State Player of the Year, and was selected by the Associated Press to its first-team 2A all-state team as a linebacker, even though he also rushed for 1,158 yards and 19 touchdowns that fall.
Baldwin was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator under Paul Wulff when Sherritt was being wooed by Eastern. He also remembers there being some uncertainty about where he might play.
“We liked him a lot, and we knew he was going to be a good football player,” Baldwin said. “But weren’t sure at the time if he was going to be a good fullback for us, or a linebacker.”
What Baldwin and the rest of the coaches didn’t envision was Sherritt becoming one of the school’s all-time best at his position.
“Obviously, we didn’t put him in the realm of leading the league in tackles and being among the national leaders back then,” Baldwin said. “What he’s accomplished so far is remarkable, and that comes from the player himself.
“That’s why I give J.C. credit. We knew he could be a good football player here, but the reason he’s become a great football player is because of what he’s done on his own since he arrived.”
With 170 career tackles, Sherritt needs only 30 more to move into the top 25 on Eastern’s list of leading career tacklers.
And with another year of eligibility remaining, he is poised to eventually challenge Belzer’s career tackles record of 399.
Sherritt is quick to admit that much of his success is directly related to the play of the four guys in front of him.
“Our front four right now is creating so much havoc that teams are having to focus double-teams on them, which makes getting to tackles a lot easier,” he said.
But 24 tackles in a single game?
“I really had no idea,” Sherritt said of his record performance against Weber. “I remember coming off the field and having (injured linebacker) Zach Johnson say, ‘Man, you’re making a lot of tackles out there.’ Even then, though, when my dad told me after the game how many I had, I was amazed.”
Unlike Schmedding, it would seem.
“Our scheme gives J.C. the freedom to run to the ball, and not many guys do that better than him,” he said. “Obviously, being voted a captain, he does things right off the field, too. But when J.C. is on the field, he plays the way you always talk to your players about playing.
“He’s something special.”