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Former Eastern Washington standout J.C. Sherritt makes transition from player to coach in Canadian Football League

J.C. Sherritt was ready to put away his cleats.

The former Pullman High and Eastern Washington linebacker shelved his eight-year Canadian Football League career in January, a year after recovering from a devastating Achilles tendon injury that took away the Edmonton Eskimo star’s 2017 season.

He bounced back in 2018, racking up 100 tackles, three sacks and a pair interceptions.

That was the sort of swan song the 2012 CFL Defensive Player of the Year and 2015 Grey Cup Champion envisioned when Edmonton took a chance on the 5-foot-9, 218-pound talent.

Sherritt, 31, went out on his terms.

“I knew it was time time to retire,” Sherritt said. “But since I was a kid, I’ve been preparing for my next career, something I’ve wanted to do since junior tackle.”

Coaching.

Sherritt now wears a whistle for his former rival, the defending Grey Cup champion and preseason favorite Calgary Stampeders, who begin their regular season Saturday against the Ottawa Redblacks.

He coaches linebackers who look across the line of scrimmage each day at a sensational quarterback who helped Sherritt and EWU win the program’s first FCS national title in 2010 – Bo Levi Mitchell.

The league continues to be littered with EWU products, including veteran quarterbacks Mitchell, Matt Nichols (Winnipeg Blue Bombers) and Vernon Adams (Montreal Alouettes).

Like his time as a player, Sherritt wants to see his EWU brethren succeed north of the border.

Just not when they’re playing against his team.

“The CFL is something (EWU products) have huge respect for,” said Sherritt, who won the Buck Buchanan award in 2010, given to the best FCS linebacker. “But we also want to beat each other.”

Sherritt weighed in on the ex-EWU stars who’ve carved out roles in the league.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Quarterback, Calgary

Mitchell, believed to be the best player in the CFL by most of the league’s pundits, has led the Stampeders to a pair of Grey Cup titles and has earned MVP of the league twice.

He considered making the move to the NFL this past offseason, working out for about a dozen teams before signing a four-year, nearly $3 million contract to stay in Calgary.

Mitchell has won a big-school state title in football-crazy Texas, an FCS national championship and two Grey Cups, Canada’s Super Bowl equivalent. Sherritt said his winning attitude is contagious.

“He’s just a winner and always has been,” Sherritt said of Mitchell. “He’s carried himself like a professional and has established himself as one of the league’s best players.”

Matt Nichols

Quarterback, Winnipeg

Nichols, who set the Big Sky Conference’s all-time career passing record (13,303 yards) before exhausting his eligibility in 2009, has been a staple in the league, starting the last three seasons in Winnipeg.

Nichols led the Blue Bombers to the CFL’s semifinals last year before falling to Mitchell and the Stampeders.

He has passed for nearly 16,500 yards and 94 touchdowns in his CFL career.

Nichols was recently ranked No. 21 on the CFL’s “Top 50 Players of 2019” preseason list.

“He’s rising up, too,” Sherritt said Nichols, one of his best friends. “He’s a smart competitor. Going to compete in every game. He’s a leader and has the attributes you need to be a professional.”

Vernon Adams

Quarterback, Montreal

One of the most electrifying quarterbacks to play at the FCS level, Adams, who played his final season at Oregon, has primarily been a backup since coming into the league in 2016.

Adams is listed the No. 2 QB on the Montreal’s depth chart behind Canadian-born star Antonio Pipkin from Canada’s Tiffin University.

In three CFL seasons, Adams, a Walter Payton Award finalist at EWU, has completed 59 of 111 passes for 804 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also rushed for 253 yards and seven touchdowns.

“He’s always been a gamer,” Sherritt said of Adams. “Always going to come out and be fierce competitor. It takes time to get adjusted to this league. It took (Mitchell) and Nichols time, too, and I think he’s doing well.

“(Adams) is a Beau Baldwin quarterback, and the CFL now has four of them in Nichols, Mitchell, (Adams) and (former Central Washington star and BC Lions star) Mike Reilly.”

T.J. Lee

Defensive back, BC Lions

A first-team All-American at EWU in 2013, Lee is one of the most feared defensive backs in CFL.

Lee earned his first CFL All-Star nod in 2018. He has 201 career tackles, 11 interceptions and four sacks.

Lee was recently ranked No. 27 in the CFL’s “Top 50 Players of 2019” list.

“What he does as good as anyone better in the league is the way he tackles,” Sherritt said. “He plays very downhill. He’s a great player.

D’londo Tucker

Defensive back, BC

Tucker, a rookie, was signed by the BC Lions in May and appears to have made team’s final 45-man roster heading into Saturday’s opener. He was a second-string defensive back on the Lions’ most recent depth chart.

Tucker had eight career interceptions at corner for EWU, five during the 2018 season to help the Eagles’ defense lead the Big Sky in fewest points allowed in conference play.

He broke up 27 career passes, including 12 in 2019.

“I worked out with him in Spokane,” Sherritt said. “His athleticism jumps out. He has the skills to be a good player in this league.

Another former standout EWU defensive back, Victor Gamboa, is on the Lions’ practice squad.

BC recently cut former EWU standouts Shaq Hill (receiver), Albert Havili (defensive end) and Cassidy Curtis (offensive lineman).

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