During three stops in his old neighborhood on Wednesday, Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman challenged students to set a goal and not be deterred from achieving it.
Richard Sherman’s goal – no, mission – to become an NFL player began early.
Like when he was a 6-year old.
“At 6 years old, I kind of locked it in,” Sherman said Wednesday. “That was it. At 6 years old, they told me, ‘Man, they pay football players to play the game.’ And I was playing on Pop Warner for free. I was like, ‘Wait. Wait! Wait.’
“I always believed that I was going to make it; without a shadow of a doubt, I was going to make it to the NFL. I didn’t know how, or when, or how long it was going to take. But I had no doubt that was going to make it. That’s kind of how you have to be.”
And here he is, 18 years later, an All-Pro cornerback for the Seahawks after leading the NFL last season in passes defensed (24) and tying for second in interceptions (eight).
This probably shouldn’t have happened, not when you consider where Sherman’s journey began and the constant obstacles and temptations he had to overcome and elude along the way. And it was that message, that challenge – setting goals and not allowing yourself to be diverted or tempted – which Sherman brought to more than 500 students on Wednesday during a three-stop tour de force to promote Students With a Goal (SWAG).
Sherman’s return-to-his-roots day began at Dominguez High School, his alma mater, for a seniors-only assembly; included another assembly at Verbum Dei High School in Watts; and concluded with another speech and Q&A session at the Brotherhood Crusade.
At each stop, Sherman delivered his message – or a variation on the theme. At each stop, the message was received, the effort respected.
“I thought what Richard had to say was very meaningful. I appreciate the time he donated to us and the organization,” Eric Bratton, a 17-year-old senior at View Park Prep, said after Sherman had addressed 45 students at the Brotherhood Crusade.
Bratton, who was cradling a football that Sherman had autographed, then smiled as he added, “I hope he gets to the Super Bowl.”
To Kalan Montgomery, a cornerback for the Dominguez High Dons last season who’s heading to San Diego State University in the fall, the best thing about his association with Sherman is that it’s not a one-day deal. It’s a one-on-one relationship.
“Richard is a real inspiration,” Montgomery said after Sherman had addressed the assembly, signed autographs and posed for pictures. “It makes me feel like if I’m lucky enough to make it to the NFL that I want to come back and just do a little more, because he always talks about being a better person.
“For me, there’s no better competition than somebody you look up to. I feel with him coming back all the time, I can too – if I make it – and help out.”
Sherman isn’t that much older than the senior football players at Dominguez, but he’s become a role model and big-brother figure because he takes the time to include them in his life.
“He’s always giving me good information,” Montgomery said. “If I need something, I can ask him. It’s not a problem. If I need help with something, I can call him. It’s not a problem. He’s always there. It’s never a problem. It’s never ‘No’ with him. It’s not even in his vocabulary.
“It’s just a blessing to have somebody like him in my life, in our lives. And I really appreciate it a lot.”
Sherman feels it’s his place – his turn, his obligation – to give back. Whether it’s time, advice, even equipment, he wants to be there for these students that now are where he once was.
“They know I’m tangible, they know I’m here,” Sherman said. “I’m not hard to find, I’m not hard to reach. Any chance I can get to give back – whether it be cleats, helmets or just someone to speak – anything I can do to help I try to get done. Because without this place, I don’t think I’d be the man or the player I am today.
“When you feel like you owe people things – in the same sense with your family and your parents – you want to give and reward them or repay them for everything they’ve done for you.”
Speaking of cleats, Sherman saw a player on one of his visits lifting weights while wearing them. For that particular player, and others as well, it comes down to having cleats to wear on the grass fields that Dons play and practice on, or tennis shoes to workout in. But not both.
“Seeing that, that’s when you want to give back,” Sherman said. “You want to find a way to get shoes on his feet so he can separate himself from weight room to the field. You can’t be in there lifting with cleats on, it’s just not safe.
“There are kids out there just trying to find a way. They don’t have much and they’re working with what they have. You’ve got to appreciate that. But also, in my heart of hearts, I want to make a better situation for them.”
With Richard Sherman, seeing is believing.