The one-liner certainly landed well and elicited grins from one side of the country to the other.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid stood at a post-game podium after a season-opening win in California and offered an affectionate description of his fullback Anthony Sherman as a “sausage with hands” after Sherman, who is built like a small Volkswagen, hauled in a 36-yard touchdown catch as he sprinted past a defender and up the sideline.
Reid grinned, partially at his own lighthearted quip about Sherman’s nickname and mostly because his team had just earned a road win. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes smiled from ear to ear in the locker room from a nearby cubby hole as reporters surrounded Sherman. A grin poked out from under Sherman’s moderately thick beard set off nicely by a Mohawk haircut as he praised Mahomes’ performance.
Sherman and the Chiefs (5-0) will play a nationally televised game against the defending AFC champion New England Patriots (3-2) in Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, about 15-mile drive from the high school where Sherman was a three-sport standout and the Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year for Massachusetts in 2006.
When Reid’s words reached the folks where Sherman grew up, in North Attleboro, Mass., they also grinned with the knowledge that, athletically, Sherman has always been more than a sausage.
“He probably had five of those when he played for us,” former North Attleboro football coach Kurt Kummer said of Sherman’s touchdown catch against the Chargers.
Since being traded to Kansas City in 2013, Sherman has been a semi-anonymous contributor to the Chiefs’ offensive machine. Occasionally he caught a pass, but primarily he went crashing into defenders as a lead blocker for featured backs and 1,000-yard rushers like Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Kareem Hunt.
“He’s a great leader on and off the field, a great husband, friend,” Ware said. “He’s one of them people that you just need in your locker room. He’s just knows what he’s doing. You can turn on the tape, and he makes plays. He’s all around the ball. A person that plays like that, there always has to be a spot. He’s our meathead of the team. Every team needs a meathead.”
Most of Sherman’s playing time has come on special teams, where he’s as likely to be blowing up blocks and finding the ball as he is to be making a block. The 5-foot-10, 242-pound Sherman led the Chiefs in special teams tackles in 2013 and 2014. So far this season, he has played the most special teams snaps on the team (109).
Many NFL teams don’t employ a fullback at all, preferring to use the roster spot for an additional receiver, tight end or running back in an age of pass-first offenses.
Sherman is at most role player in the highest-scoring offense in the NFL, but he’s content.
“This is a team sport, and a lot of the guys in this locker room know that,” Sherman said. “None of us really care who gets the ball as long as we win. If one guy is catching 1,000 passes for 10,000 yards, we don’t care. If we win football games, that’s all that matters.”
Now in his eighth year in the NFL and sixth with the Chiefs, Sherman has carved out a niche as an intelligent player willing and capable of wearing many hats.
He’s made himself a valuable piece that Reid, who brought in Sherman via a trade from the Arizona Cardinals for defensive back Javier Arenas in May 2013, can plug into various situations.
“He’s a tough kid, smart,” Reid said. “I imagine that at one time he’ll be good coach. That’s probably the direction he wants to go when it’s all said and done. He’ll be good at that if he chooses to do. The guy knows everything that’s going on — that’s what gives us the flexibility to put him in as a tight end and also play him as a fullback.”
Last season, during Mahomes’ only start of his rookie year in Week 17, Sherman stepped in at running back with the Chiefs’ backfield options banged up.
This season, he’s been used as the team’s third tight end as the Chiefs have gone with just two active tight ends for three of their five games.
“He has hands,” Ware said. “Yes, he’s a fullback. He may not run routes like a wide receiver, but he can catch and he also is prepared. Any situation that is presented on the field on game day, he can answer those questions for you. He’s always prepared. … You could almost call him one of those utility players in baseball.”
Funny, when told Sherman’s prior athletic exploits included playing center field and batting leadoff, Ware refused to believe it. He insisted that, considering Sherman’s stocky build, he must have been a catcher.
Once upon a time, Sherman was the guy. Along with playing baseball, he also sprinted and threw the shot put as an indoor track athlete.
On the gridiron, Kummer and his high school staff focused on finding different ways to get Sherman the ball. He finished his high school career as North Attleboro’s all-time leading rusher with 2,537 yards and 48 touchdowns and was an all-state linebacker.
Kummer, now the athletic director at North Attleboro High, still remembers a game in the New England snow in which Sherman set the tone on defense with a huge hit on an opposing player who was headed to a Power Five college. And then, in the same game, Sherman ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and threw for a touchdown on an halfback pass.
Mike Hart, the baseball coach at North Attleboro High, grew up playing Pop Warner with Sherman as well as varsity football and baseball in high school. Aside from being a workout maniac, Hart mostly remembers Sherman’s competitiveness. It was almost legendary.
“I just knew teams and schools were totally missing the whole point about him,” Hart said. “You definitely saw his competitive level. Every single tough situation that I’ve seen him in — if it was versus another person who was as good as him or better than him — you always saw him raise his game to match and exceed. In baseball, a rare time when we saw a pitcher who throws high 80s or around 90 in our part of the state, he would hit it.”
When the University of Connecticut came calling, Sherman willingly made the transition to fullback. After having been one of the primary options, if not the primary option throughout his prep football career, he chose to become a human battering ram.
He served as lead blocker for the nation’s leading rusher, Donald Brown, in 2008. He also paved the way for the fourth-leading rusher in NCAA, Jordan Todman, in 2010.
“I took pride in it,” Sherman said of changing roles. “I had the leading rusher in the nation behind me my sophomore year in Donald Brown, and then I had two other great running backs in Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman that it was fun blocking for them. I don’t care who gets the ball or what happens. As long as we win, that’s all that matters to me. It doesn’t really bother me if I don’t get the ball ever.”
Sherman weight about 220 pounds in high school, and he put on another 10-15 in college. His experience as a high school running back helped him with things like reading the line of scrimmage in order to make his blocks as a fullback. Coaches worked with him on technique and he hit the ground running and played in every game as a freshman at UConn (two starts).
When UConn assistant head coach/running backs coach Terry Richardson turned on Sherman’s high school game tape, he saw physical toughness, balance, hands and speed.
“From the fullback position, three things have to happen,” Richardson said. “One, you’ve got to read the blocks like a runner. It takes a little bit of tailback knowledge as far as what gap to fit in and being able to read holes, line movement and line stunts. That’s first and foremost. Second, you have to be a technician in terms of your hat, hands and your feet. They all have to match — to do that you have to have some type of athletic ability and coordination.
“The third component of that, and most important, is being physical and having a want-to.”
Sherman, a two-time captain at UConn, rushed 17 total times for 61 yards in his four collegiate seasons. The year Brown led the nation in rushing, Sherman was also second on the team in receptions (26) and receiving yards (270).
Richardson noticed an uncommon maturity in Sherman from the time he did a home visit during the recruiting process. Richardson also sold Sherman on the idea that making the change to fullback would give him his best chance to play professionally.
“The fullback position, it’s kind of gone by the wayside, but he’s one of those guys that are keeping it alive because of his versatility,” said Richardson, who spent two years as an NFL running backs coach.
Kummer isn’t surprised to see Sherman thriving as an under-the-radar player on a star-studded offense. Even while Sherman was winning state player of the year honors and setting records, Kummer always viewed Sherman as a blue collar, hard-working guy who didn’t care about getting the credit.
He pointed to Sherman’s family as a force in fostering that attitude, citing several members of Sherman’s extended clan who are civil servants locally — police officers, state troopers and firefighters around New England.
“He was the hardest-working kid we had,” Kummer said. “He did everything the way it should be done, and he led our locker room. I’ve got to tell you, I see him doing that for Kansas City. I see his personality and his leadership as important as anything he does. He had it way back when.”
This weekend, there will be plenty of people around New England rooting for Sherman to play well ... but rooting for the Chiefs over the hometown Patriots is a tough ask.
The best-case scenario in Kummer’s eyes is Sherman scoring five touchdowns, running for 150 yards and the Patriots winning by one point.