Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman was brought up in a working man’s family. His dad drove a truck in the blue-collar community of North Attleboro, Mass. Two uncles were policemen, another a fireman.
So whenever there was a job to do, people could count on Sherman.
That extends back to his sophomore year at the University of Connecticut, when two female students who lived a few floors beneath his dorm room needed some help.
“My roommate and I helped them un-bunk their beds, and we became real close friends with them,” said Sherman, who eventually started dating one of the women, Jessica Arremony, a shortstop on the Connecticut softball team.
“Right after her birthday, I took her out on our first date … and it’s been a fairy tale ever since then.”
The couple married in June 2013, and they celebrated a special Thanksgiving on Thursday.
They had their first child, Rex, who was born on Aug. 13. Sherman signed a three-year, $7 million contract extension on Nov. 5. He was selected AFC special teams player of the week the following week after he forced and recovered a fumbled punt that set up the Chiefs’ game-winning touchdown at Buffalo.
And this weekend, the Chiefs, 7-4, have a chance to move into a first-place tie with Denver if they can beat the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night, which happens to be Jessica’s 26th birthday.
“It’s been a great year and there’s a lot to be thankful for this year for my family and myself, and for this team,” Sherman said. “We’re in great position as a team. We started slow, but we came on strong toward the middle of the season, so now we want to finish and see if the playoffs happen.”
A black, Stanley lunch pail sits at the front of the Chiefs running backs’ meeting room, a symbol of the attitude of the players who tote the ball for the NFL’s fourth-best rushing team.
Sherman, 25, embodies the spirit of an old-school, throwback football player who bloodies his nose and buries his helmet into defensive players in the path of running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, and on the rare occasion when “The Sherminator” himself carries the ball.
Sherman has rushed just five times for 14 yards and has caught seven passes for 62 yards this season, but his crushing blocks are a key reason Charles (772 yards) and Knile Davis (423 yards) rank second in the league among running back tandems and have combined for a league-best 13 rushing touchdowns.
“It’s not difficult,” Sherman, a 5-10, 242-pounder, said of blocking for Charles and Davis. “They make us look a lot better … they set up blocks great. We know, and the offensive line is the same way, if you get on your guy for just a split second, when Jamaal or Knile make that cut, it’s going to be difficult to stop.”
The Chiefs, with Sherman leading the way, rank fourth in the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 24 of 36 trips inside the 20 (66.7 percent). Sherman’s 8.2 overall grade and 5.9 blocking grade by Pro Football Focus are far and away the best in the NFL.
“To have Sherm blocking in front of me, I feel so comfortable and I feel confident when a run play is called,” said Charles, who has scored an NFL-most 30 touchdowns in the last two seasons. He’s a great blocker, he’s a great teammate, he’s a great leader, he’s a great special-teams player.
“But Sherm sometimes just wants to be in the game. He just wants to hear his name called.”
There was a time when Sherman was a household name in Massachusetts high school football. He was the 2006 Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts, rushing for 1,202 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior and finishing his career as North Attleboro’s all-time leader in rushing, with 2,537 yards, and touchdowns with 48.
And he had exactly one Division I offer, from Connecticut, then a Big East upstart.
Huskies coach Randy Edsall introduced Sherman to the role in which he excels as a professional — blasting holes for others to run through.
Sherman showed the way for Donald Brown to lead the NCAA in rushing in 2008 and become a first-round pick in the 2009 draft. And he helped Jordan Todman become the first back in UConn history to rush for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
“There’s not many like him around who is very unselfish, will do whatever he has to do to make the team better, whether it’s blocking, catching the ball out of the backfield, playing on special teams or doing the dirty work and doing it with physicality, and enjoy it as much as he does,” said Edsall, now the head coach at Maryland.
“He always had fun knocking the (crud) out of people. … There were linebackers who feared him coming up in there in the hole and taking them on.”
Sherman became accustomed to playing the supporting character to the Huskies’ leading men.
“It was the way I was brought up,” said Sherman, the oldest of five children. “My parents did a great job of raising me and making me understand you have to be humble and go to work every day. I take the approach of team first. I’ve always been like that. Even in high school, if someone else scored a touchdown, it didn’t bother me, as long as we won.”
Sherman, elected a UConn team captain as both a junior and senior, rushed just 17 times, caught 48 passes and scored but one touchdown in his four college seasons and was part of UConn football’s breakout era. The Huskies went to four straight bowl games during Sherman’s career, capped by the 2011 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, the first BCS bowl in school history.
“Anthony Sherman was very critical (to Connecticut’s success), not only how he played, but his attitude and temperament he brought to our team,” Edsall said. “What he brought to the weight room, what he brought to the practice field, what he brought on game day. It was contagious.
“He set the example of what hard work, toughness and how you had to have those characteristics to be good. When you’re running the football, you’re creating a mentality, and he helped create that mentality, and it rubbed off on the offensive linemen as well.”
Sherman had just finished his second season with the Arizona Cardinals when the club replaced head coach Ken Whisenhunt with Bruce Arians for the 2013 season.
One of Arians’ first comments was, “I’m not a fullback guy.”
Sherman, a fifth-round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2011, knew his days in the desert were numbered.
“I thought, ‘Am I going to go back there? What are they going to do if he doesn’t use a fullback?’ ” Sherman said. “I play special teams but didn’t know what was going to happen.”
He found out on May 1 last year when the Chiefs, who had hired Andy Reid as coach, traded cornerback Javier Arenas to Arizona for Sherman. He was a perfect fit for Reid’s West Coast offense and is a key component on special teams.
Sherman leads the Chiefs in special-teams tackles with 10 and is a key blocker on the kickoff-return team that produced two touchdown returns last year and Davis’ 99-yard touchdown return this season against St. Louis.
“Sherman is our leader in the meeting rooms and on the field,” said special-teams coordinator Dave Toub. “He is so consistent. He is the best fullback/special teams player in the league by far. He makes everything work for us.”
Sherman would like to do more.
“I always joke with the coaches, that if you need me to play a little defense, too …” Sherman said. “I played defense in high school.”
Sherman made his biggest offensive splash with an 11-yard touchdown catch-and-run with a screen pass in the Chiefs’ 23-20 win at San Diego last month. Sherman made two tacklers miss in the flat, dashed upfield and outran several defenders to the end zone.
“I don’t get the ball enough to not give it everything I’ve got to get it in the end zone,” Sherman said. “Alex (Smith) did a great job of putting the ball in the right spot. You could see the linemen coming out of the backfield and making a wall, and receivers blocking downfield.
“Jamaal was blocking downfield, because he let me know, ‘I helped you on that one.’ ”