Roughly a month ago, Missouri sophomore safety Anthony Sherrils had a dream that he picked off his first career pass and raced up the right sideline with the football tucked under his arm.
That dream came true last Saturday in the closing minute of a 9-6 win against Connecticut at Memorial Stadium.
Sherrils stepped in front of Huskies tight end Alec Bloom and snagged the game-clinching interception off a fake field-goal pass from backup quarterback Tim Boyle and then raced 50 yards up the right sideline.
When asked how his dream matched up with reality, Sherrils said, “It wasn’t to clinch the game” in the dream.
It’s a moment that almost never happened.
Sherrils, a Hogan Prep graduate, suffered a traumatic brain injury in June 2013 when he was the passenger in a car accident and smacked his head on a window. He considered walking away from football.
“I came close,” said Sherrils, who indicated that the injury not being football-related helped sway his decision. “My family and my friends were saying they wanted to see me after football, football is not everything. But I love it. My dad wanted to see me playing football, so I’m playing football.”
Sherrils’ father — Anthony Montel Sherrils, known as Montel by friends and family — was strangled to death when Anthony was 8 years old.
The two were close.
Coaches often become akin to fathers for players in the younger Sherrils’ circumstance, but that wasn’t the case at the time of his accident less than a month after arriving at MU.
“He just got here, too, and he knew me, but he didn’t really trust me,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. “There was no bond between Anthony Sherrils and me yet. … He was real guarded when it happened. He was scared. This had never happened to him before.
“You recruit them and you talk to them and you know them, but you really don’t know them when he’s lying in a hospital bed. You have to earn that. I have to earn that, and that’s just the way it is.”
Flash forward two years, and there’s a bond now between Pinkel and Sherrils.
“Well, I’m a starter now, so it’s a trust relationship,” Sherrils said, flashing a broad smile. “He has to trust me to be on the field to make the plays, and I have to trust him to make the calls.”
In only his third career start, Sherrils demonstrated uncommon athleticism and playmaking ability against Connecticut, forcing and recovering his first career fumble in addition to the interception.
“Anthony’s a very good athlete,” Pinkel said. “He’s very explosive. His ability to get to top speed is remarkably quick. He’s bright. He’s just got a lot going for him, and he is utilizing his abilities. … We’ve just seen a little glimpse of what he can be.”
Nobody on Missouri’s roster was surprised by Sherrils’ game-changing prowess.
“All spring, all camp and last summer, he’s been making plays and doing the same thing he showed last week,” senior cornerback Aarion Penton said.
As good as it felt creating two turnovers, Sherrils, who is tied for fifth on the team with 12 tackles, was actually more pleased with his career-high six-tackle performance at Arkansas State from the week before.
“I had a lot of action,” said Sherrils, whose 11 unassisted tackles trail only senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers for the Tigers’ defense. “Guys ran to me a lot, and I made every play that came my way. … I take pride in tackling. I haven’t missed a tackle all season. Turnovers are good, but I just like tackling. I really like tackling.”
Like Pinkel, Sherrils also believes his production through three games is only the tip of the iceberg.
“I feel like I’m going to get many, many more interceptions,” Sherrils said. “The first one was a good one. It’s going to be one to remember, but I just stay humble about it, act like I’ve been there before. I haven’t, but …”
At that point, Sherrils simply smiled again.