It’s been a year of offensive achievement in the CFL, with the high-scoring, down to the last second action each and every weekend.
So while everyone’s talking about the flashy, big-play offensive stars, why don’t we take a moment and recognize some remarkable defensive play?
JC Sherritt is having a season to remember so far in 2012, and with the Esks boasting one of the league’s stingiest defences to date, the second-year linebacker out of Eastern Washington hasn’t been any less outstanding than the top offensive players this season.
Let’s consider what he’s already accomplished so far this season:
His league-high 58 tackles (which leaves a giant gap between him and the runner-up in tackles, Adam Bighill) puts him on pace for 149 tackles over the span of a full 18-game season. That would shatter former Argos linebacker Calvin Tiggle’s single-season record of 129 tackles set back in 1994.
Sherritt focused on one thing
“Awards are always great honours and those are cool to get, but I learned in college it’s about the trophy at the end of the year. It might sound cliché, but I promise I would trade every award I’ve ever won for a championship. That’s how I’ve always been since I was little – addicted to winning.”
– Eskimos linebacker JC Sherritt
He’s already won Defensive Player of the Week three different times this season, along with Player of the Month honours for the month of July (and is well in the running for August, too).
And while he’s mostly been recognized for his role as a black hole on the defence, who swallows up any ball carrier that approaches, he’s also had no shortage of big plays so far with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
The scariest part of it all is that he’s only 24 years old and in his second year in the league, with plans to get a whole lot better.
“It’ll never end, trying to improve my game,” says Sherritt, who joined the Esks in 2011. “There are always little things: you can always take a better angle or quicker steps; you can always read plays faster; you can always recognize tendencies and formations better.”
“It would be sad to peak at 24 years old, so I’m always going to approach it that way and I certainly feel that I can get better.”
Sherritt played college ball with current Eskimo teammate Matt Nichols and former Eskimo Greg Peach, who both convinced the Truckee, California native that he should take his services north of the border after leaving the NCAA.
The Esks already had Sherritt on their negotiation list, and with his smaller frame of five-foot-ten, 220 lbs., the hard-hitting linebacker decided the CFL would make a perfect new home.
“As soon as they put me on the negotiation list and Greg had been playing up here, he instantly was in my ear about what it’s like to play up here; the type of organization that Edmonton is; the tradition they have – it’s just something I got really excited about,” says Sherritt.
One of the youngest members of an already young Double E defence, it didn’t take long for the rookie linebacker to make an impression with his new team, starting in 15 games and racking up 72 defensive tackles, three sacks, and three forced fumbles – including an 11-tackle performance in his first career game, a 42-28 win for the Esks on opening day last year.
While his numbers were impressive though, Sherritt’s rookie CFL season didn’t come without a learning curve, especially when it comes to pass coverage.
“In the CFL as a linebacker you have to be able to cover in the pass game, and I think in my rookie year I definitely got exploited a couple of times because I just wasn’t used to it,” says Sherritt. “That’s been a work in progress. This off-season I worked hard at it and I’m still not where I need to be, that’s something that I’ll work on my whole career.”
But while he’s shown considerable progress in pass coverage, the topic of discussion for everyone else this season has been his ridiculous tackle numbers. Sherritt has at least seven tackles in all but one game, while reaching double digits in three games.
In a season-opening win over the Toronto Argonauts, he played a major role in holding then-Argo and now current teammate Cory Boyd to just 57 yards on 18 carries, getting 11 tackles as well as adding a forced fumble.
As nice as those numbers are though, sometimes they can be misleading, and in the grand scheme of things, nothing’s more important than winning.
“You can’t get caught up in numbers like that. I think turnovers and things like that, those are a lot better to judge someone by,” says Sherritt. “But I’m definitely a big win-loss guy. I’ll give all those tackles away if you give me a ring.”
What’s clear from Sherritt’s play on the field is that there might not be anyone quite as competitive in this league as him, which explains why the defensive leader for the Green and Gold is focused on getting back on track for next game after a tough loss in Montreal.
The Esks entered last weekend’s home matchup with the Als boasting the league’s stingiest defence, which led the league in points against as well as turnovers. But after giving up 38 points and 433 yards of offence right in their own back yard, one of the league’s most impressive units was taken down a peg.
“Any time you get embarrassed like we did, and that’s what we felt – we felt embarrassed – all you want to do is get to the next game,” says Sherritt. “I think there’s a sense of urgency with the defence.”
Smack dab in the middle of things in a highly-competitive West Division, suddenly it looks like the Esks have a lot of work to do on the defensive front.
“We’re not close to where we want to be, and if you want to be the best you’ve got to get better every game every week,” says the second-year linebacker. “You’ve certainly got to learn from your mistakes and that’s something that we have to do.”
If Sherritt maintains his current pace in getting tackles and making plays, it’s hard to imagine him not winning a Defensive Player of the Year award at the end of the season.
More than that though, it’s likely that so far he’s been his own team’s most valuable player, with the Esks looking to challenge as a contender this season, in large because of their defensive dominance.
It’s quite possible that at this rate, Sherritt could get some mention as a candidate for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award at the end of the season – a feat that would be quite rare given the prestigous award’s history of being given to offensive players.
Of course, while it’s fun to think about for fans, one player who hasn’t thought about individual awards in the least is the man himself, who says the only trophy on his mind is the Grey Cup.
“Awards are always great honours and those are cool to get, but I learned in college it’s about the trophy at the end of the year,” he says. “It might sound cliché, but I promise I would trade every award I’ve ever won for a championship.”
“That’s how I’ve always been since I was little – addicted to winning.”