CFL Pass

Former Eskimos defensive standout J.C. Sherritt facing former club as coach

If it was professional wrestling instead of professional football, it would be called a heel turn.

That’s when a fan favourite and immediately recognizable face from one franchise suddenly switches sides, making a traitorous move to a rival camp.

And it’s exactly what J.C. Sherritt did in January, when he joined the coaching staff of the hated Calgary Stampeders a mere two weeks after retiring from an eight-season career as a well-decorated middle linebacker with the Edmonton Eskimos.

Only, unlike pro wrasslin’, his turn wasn’t scripted.

“I’m fortunate enough to have pretty good relationships with coaches throughout the years, both college and pro, and I just reached out to everybody and luckily had that call to come up and get an interview,” said Sherritt, 31. “Things went good, and here we are.

“Obviously, coaching was something I’ve dreamed about and I wanted to do my whole life, so to get this opportunity, how fast it came, you are just very fortunate and thankful. I’ve literally wanted to do this since I was a little kid, I wanted to play as long as I could and then coach.”

At five-foot-nine and 220 pounds, Sherritt was overlooked in the 2011 National Football League draft, despite coming off a season where he won the Buck Buchanan award, was named Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year and received back-to-back consensus first-team FCS all-American honours.

But that didn’t stop him from being named the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding rookie in the West Division in 2011, before a then-record 124 tackles earned him the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive player award the following season.

An Achilles injury in the 2017 season opener ended his on-field exploits that year, only to see him wheel his scooter walker straight into the coaches room to pitch in while he recovered physically for one final kick at the can last year before hanging up his cleats.

“Yeah, I wasn’t even sure whether he was going to play or coach,” Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said of the Eastern Washington product. “I did have an inkling from his college coach (Beau Baldwin) that he was looking to get into the business, potentially – this was a guy we’d had up as a guest coach numerous times – so I had (Sherritt) in the back of my mind. Then when I found out that he was going to retire and that he was interested in coaching, I thought he was a great fit for our staff.

“Especially, we needed a guy, first off. And then I wanted to get kind of a different opinion, I didn’t want to just keep hiring and getting guys with the same background. I wanted somebody with a little bit different background; younger energy and dynamic. He’s done a nice job.”

And on Saturday, Sherritt will get his first taste of the Battle of Alberta from the southern side of the fence.

“Yeah, the football gods always have a sense of humour,” said Sherritt, who won a Grey Cup and surpassed the 500-tackle plateau in 109 games played with the Eskimos. “It’s a premier organization. It might be a rival, but the respect you have for them was through the roof my whole career. So to get to join a top-notch place and continue learning from people who are so talented, I just feel fortunate.”

It was a different feeling for Eskimos fans, who, as expected, didn’t hold back on social media.

But it turns out the reaction basically fell on deaf ears.

“I have one Twitter account that I don’t really use. I’ve got to be honest, I’m one of the worst social-media people out there,” said Sherritt. “I had a flip-phone until, like, 2015. It’s just not for me.

“But how can you fault fans for having blowback? Fans are one of the greatest parts of this game, I’m not going to fault a fan for getting upset with that stuff. Human nature is human nature.”

As much as he owes Eskimos fans over the years, and vice-versa, they weren’t the first thing on his mind when the answered the call to coach.

“As soon as I got that call, I was just focused on preparing for my interview, because I knew what an opportunity it was,” said Sherritt, who had no chance of joining an Eskimos coaching staff that had already been filled. “No disrespect to anybody but the situation I ended up in, you could almost say the timing was perfect with how my retirement timed out. To be able to get a linebacking job for the Calgary Stampeders, I know how lucky that is because it’s not easy to get a job.

“Especially at a professional level.”


On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge