The Eastern Washington Eagles, located in Cheney, Wash., were the only U.S. school to offer J.C. Sherritt a scholarship. Today the pocket-sized Edmonton Eskimos linebacker stands as the Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the CFL after making a league-record 130 tackles this season.
Sherritt had scholarship interest from Montana State, Idaho and Eastern Washington but the first two never make him an offer.
"Thank goodness Eastern Washington did offer," he said Thursday night after winning his CFL award. "And as soon as they did, I accepted."
The 24-year-old Sherritt beat out Montreal Alouettes linebacker Shea Emry, drawing 49-of-57 votes from the CFL coaches and members of the football Reporters of Canada.
The Eskimos signed him as a free agent in April 2011, with Sherritt pointing to head scout Ed Hervey for helping him find a home in Edmonton.
"It's been a blessing to be there, that's for sure," he said.
Just five foot nine and 218 pounds, Sherritt erased the single-season tackle record of 129 set by Toronto’s Calvin Tiggle in 1994.
The native of Pullman, Wash., also had three special teams tackles, forced three fumbles, three sacks, two knockdowns, one fumble recovery and five interceptions.
Sherritt won defensive player of the month honours in July, August, and September, as well as being named defensive player of the week four times.
But he was unable to help the Eskimos in the East semifinal, coming out the day of the game at the Rogers Centre in a walking cast due to a nagging ankle injury.
The award does not make up for the pain of missing that Nov. 11 game.
"Not really," Sherritt said.
"It's an honour and I don't want to act like it's nothing to me," he said of the award. "But obviously it's all about a (championship) ring, especially (in) Edmonton. Every day I walk in, I see the Grey Cup champion banners. Those teams and those guys, they live forever. They're Grey Cup champions and that's something that I've always been about — championships. And I'll continue to be that way."
Backstage at the awards, Sherritt remembered to thank his Edmonton teammates.
"I have a fear of public speaking so I panicked and didn't thank them," he admitted. "I obviously should have because that defensive line protected me all season long. That's our award, it's not an individual award."
He also spoke warmly of coach Kavis Reed.
"The CFL, it's a small league and everybody knows everybody. Every player says the same thing about Kavis — he's a special individual. If you've met him, if you've played for him, you understand. He's a guy you want to win for. And I think that's the ultimate compliment to a coach."
His absence in the Toronto playoff game was a surprise.
Sherritt said the day before the game his foot felt fine. Reed said the medical staff were monitoring him.
Sherritt hadn't practised much that week, but it had been that way since injuring the ankle Sept. 28 against Calgary. He sat out the next week.
He set the tackle record in the final game of the regular season, suffering what Reed called another ankle injury minutes after setting the mark. Sherritt, however, said the injuries were related.
Sherritt was the 2011 Western nominee for the Most Outstanding Rookie, losing out to Hamilton receiver Chris Williams.
Sherritt and Emry go back.
Emry played for the Eagles from 2004 to 2006 before transferring to UBC for his senior season. Sherritt redshirted during the 2006 season and then moved from fullback to Emry's position.
At Eastern Washington, Sherritt played 49 games over four seasons and became the first player in school history to make more than 400 career tackles.
Sherritt, whose hometown Washington State Cougars asked him to walk on, also helped the Eagles to the NCAA Division 1 Football Championship in 2010.