A makeshift football field accentuates a housing project in Kansas City known as Charlie Parker Square.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
There are no lines on the field. No end zones. No goal posts. Nothing to suggest its meant for football. One sideline is a concrete sidewalk; the other a wall made of stone tablets.
This setting was once used in a documentary detailing the roughest neighborhoods in America.
But for 18-year-old Anthony Sherrils, a Hogan Prep Academy senior, the field once served as an escape from a culture of drugs, violence and personal tragedy. For him, the turmoil defines this place and scarred his childhood.
Sherrils was just 8 years old when his father, grandfather and great uncle died all in a span of seven months.
He came to this football field within view of his great grandmothers front porch, where he grew up to forget about all of that.
Right here, he says while casually tossing a football in the air. This was my outlet, man.
I spent a lot of time crying after my dad passed, but there was no crying on the football field.
The next field Sherrils plays on will bear no resemblance to the one that helped him blossom into a high school star.
Sherrils will sign a letter of intent today to attend Missouri on an athletic scholarship.
It seems fitting that football will allow him an opportunity to earn an education he readily admits he wouldnt receive otherwise. After all, he learned many of lifes lessons through the sport.
Football taught an apoplectic child how to forgive.
And it reminded him how to live.
Nearly 10 years have passed since his father died, but Anthony Sherrils still has vivid, uncontrollable flashbacks.
For years, they came in the form of nightmares, so he feared falling asleep. He would lie on the mattress for hours, staring at the ceiling and praying for comfort.
Anthony! Anthony! he hears a voice shouting.
It grows louder.
These are the last words Sherrils heard his father yell on March 19, 2003. Too tired to move, Sherrils stayed in bed that night rather than greet his dad, Anthony Montel Sherrils, whom his family called Montel.
Sherrils shudders when he relives that moment.
That was it, he says, the sting in his voice apparent. He walked out the door, and I never seen him again.
Early the following morning, Montel was found dead in a parking lot on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City, Kan. He was 29.
Authorities said Michael Allen, a brother of Sherrils mom, strangled Montel. In November 2003, Allen pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter. He was released from prison in June.
It all just changed me," Sherrils said. I really looked up to my dad. We were tight, and then he was gone just like that. He wasnt just my dad. He was my best friend.
Already in a period of grief following the deaths of his grandfather and great uncle two men he lived with, along with his great grandmother Sherrils became filled with anger and aggression when his dad was killed.
His mother, Tasha Allen, worried where he might turn next.
His dad getting snatched away from him, that discouraged him from living his life, Allen said. She and Montel never married. He was a different kid after that. He was angry.
I (was) concerned. Drugs, gangs all that stuff he grew up around I didnt want that entering him.
A 2005 documentary, Hood 2 Hood: The Blockumentary, traveled to 29 neighborhoods across the country to chronicle inner-city street gangs. It made a stop at Parker Square.
Sherrils bounced around from home to home as a child mostly splitting time with his mother and his great grandmother, Juanita Smith but both lived in apartment complexes inside Parker Square, located at the cross section of 12th Street and The Paseo.
In the opening scenes of the films segment on Parker Square, an unidentified man whips a bag of drugs out of his right pocket, then reaches into the left pocket to reveal a handgun. Another man brags about the time he was shot.
That culture surrounded Sherrils everyday life.
A bullet once passed through his upstairs bedroom only a few minutes after Sherrils walked downstairs to grab a bite to eat.
Sherrils has witnessed shootings, drug deals and gotten got into his share of fist-fights.
When I found myself doing something I wasnt supposed to be doing, Id stop and think that my dad really dont want me doing this, Sherrils said. I never got into serious trouble, but it was just because I thought about my dad. I knew what he wanted me to do and that was play football.
Montel taught Sherrils the game of football at an early age. Montel was athletic and quickly noticed that Sherrils was, too.
When Sherrils played tackle football, few kids could bring him down. No one could outrun him.
So after a year in which aggression defined his life, Sherrils returned to the football field. Anda sense of normalcy.
I started using his passing as something to drive me, just as motivation, Sherrils said. We were struggling as a family. I said I have to make it out of here. I have to be successful. All of this pain, I have to make something out of it.
Ten years later, the nightmares have passed. They have been replaced with mostly pleasant dreams that seem to chronicle Sherrils time with his father.
They watch TV together, go to see a movie and, of course, play football.
I wish his dad could have seen him play, said Smith, who missed only one of Sherrils games in his four-year career at Hogan Prep. Ill be the first to tell you I dont know much about football. But he sure is fast.
Sherrils was the top track runner in the school as a freshman. Its the blazing speed that undoubtedly caught the eye of college scouts, and he committed to Missouri prior to the start of his senior season.
Last fall, he rushed for 1,591 yards and 19 touchdowns on only 102 carries. Thats 15 yards per tote. He caught 21 passes and turned them into 507 yards and five scores. While playing sparingly on defense, he intercepted three passes.
You can put him anywhere on the field, Hogan Prep coach Phil Lascuola said. And hell make a play for you.
Sherrils isnt real familiar with any of his numbers except that hes 6 feet 1 and 178 pounds but he memorizes the statistics from an Oct. 13 home game against Southwest.
Before kickoff, he dedicated the game to his fathers memory. It would have been Montels 38th birthday.
Sherrils scored five touchdowns in a 64-0 win.
I feel like I got my life back, Sherrils said. Because I feel like hes out there with me.
When Im out there playing football, its like nothing bad ever happened to me.
Sherrils said he has forgiven the man who pleaded guilty to strangling his father, though he has no plans to see him anytime soon.
A year ago, Sherrils moved in with Debora Smith, whom Montel was dating before he died. The living situation is a stark contrast from his childhood. When he lived with his mother, Sherrils walked home from school wondering if she had paid the electrical and gas bills or if he would be entering a dark, cold apartment.
Here, he has a car, an iPhone and a few more gadgets he didnt enjoy in the past.
But he hasnt forgotten his roots. He visits his great grandmother often including a bright, sunny day earlier this week.
Juanita Smith has lived in the same apartment on Mary Lou Williams Lane for the past 40 years. She talks proudly about her grandson and the man he has become.
That boy went through more tragedy than any kid should ever go through, Smith says, tears streaming down her face. And you would never know it.
But she worries. Sherrils doesnt often talk about his past. Hes never once asked anyone about the details surrounding his fathers death.
I dont let people feel my past, because when people know your past, they think youre weak, Sherrils said. But its human to have weaknesses. Its how you treat those weaknesses and how you get up that matters.
To reach Sam McDowell, send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.