Shaw column: Sherrill back in spotlight

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 8, 2012

SALISBURY – ?Opportunity didn’t simply show up and tap politely on B.J. Sherrill’s door this week. It kicked the darn thing open.
What happened to Catawba’s football program this past Thursday could have knocked a lesser, redshirt freshman for a loop and sent a lesser program scrambling for cover. To everyone’s credit, neither happened Saturday night at Shuford Stadium.
“Everybody was in shock,” Sherrill said after earning a game ball and leading Catawba to an easy victory in the Mayor’s Cup Challenge. “It just hit us out of nowhere. But once we found out we just refocused and got ourselves ready for this great Livingstone team.”
What they found out shortly before Thursday’s practice was devastating. Starting quarterback Jacob Charest, a senior who made headlines when he transferred from Division I Illinois a couple years ago, had been removed from the team. Director of Athletics Dennis Davidson provided the school’s official statement: “All I can say is that he broke athletic department rules for the second time. He’s still in school but his athletic career at Catawba is over. We have a two-strike policy here and this was the second time he broke a major rule.”
It also meant Sherrill, best remembered for leading West Rowan High School to 46 consecutive wins and three state championships, was unexpectedly trusted into active duty. “Jake was a great quarterback,” he said. “To be honest, it was great for me to be able to sit or stand and watch him and just learn. He was a DI guy who has seen a lot. I was hoping I’d be ready one day when my time came, but I wasn’t expecting it to come this soon.”
It came yesterday. Most games in this one-sided series fade from memory, but this one will stick – thanks to Sherrill. In his collegiate debut he completed 19 of 24 passes for 317 yards and threw for three touchdowns. He also scored on a second-period quarterback sneak that gave Catawba a 21-7 lead.
“B.J. sort of surprised us,” senior left guard Andrew Parsons said. “He’s got some big shoes to fill. But he made some calls that a veteran quarterback would make.”
He started making them almost immediately. On Catawba’s first play from scrimmage, Sherrill dropped back and spiraled a completion to wideout Payton McCollum, who found a seam and turned the play into a 57-yard touchdown. The game – and Sherrill’s tenure as a starter – was all of 23 seconds old.
“He showed that he’s the man,” said teammate Nate Charest, Catawba’s leading receiver and Jacob’s younger brother. “He definitely had his head on straight and showed he was ready for this game.”
Sherrill credited some shoulder-to-shoulder blocking, then made an interesting confession. “It’s funny to me,” he said, “because I was sitting up in my room all day today, just thinking and playing the game in my head. And I was thinking about Matt Ryan, the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. His very first pass in the NFL was a touchdown. And I thought, “Wouldn’t that be special if I could start off like that?'”
Special indeed. Parsons had this reaction after Catawba’s offense racked up 399 yards:
“Going out there I was like, ‘What’s this kid gonna do?'” he explained. “And then he throws a 57-yard touchdown on his first pass. And I thought, ‘All right. This will work.'”
It worked all night against the Blue Bears. Sherrill completed passes to 10 different receivers, including one apiece to West Rowan graduates Wade Moore and Tre Mashore. He completed passes from the pocket, on rollouts and even when he was running for his life.
“He seized the opportunity,” Nate Charest said. “He proved he can lead us where we want to go – to the top.”