Mike Sherrard and Coach John Beck reminisce on the first steps Sherrard took toward the NFL— cat tracks at Chico High
Submitted by Ed Booth on Wed, 05/12/2010 - 10:59am.
An abundance of athletic skill, solid academics and hard work, along with some good timing, proved to be the recipe for Mike Sherrard to reach the National Football League.
The 1981 Chico High School alumnus is also quick to credit his varsity football coach, John Beck, as a crucial part of that success.
Sherrard— considered small by college and professional football standards at 6-foot-2 and about 185 pounds— spent 11 seasons in the NFL after the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the first round (18th overall) in 1986. He later played for the San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants and Denver Broncos, where he wound down his career following the 1996 slate.
The timing was remarkable for him to even have a shot at the pros. That’s because Sherrard, who’d already decided on attending UCLA, tried out as a walk-on (unrecruited player) and made the team. Actually, he became a starter, and excelled.
“I figured I’d give 100 percent and if I made it, great,” Sherrard recalled of his nothing-to-lose frame of mind. However, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study, or even what career path he wanted.
“At first I wanted to be an orthodontist, but I was just going to go to school to be history major,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a teacher – both of my parents were teachers. I didn’t plan on playing football. I just wanted to get my degree. I wanted to major in business but UCLA didn’t offer that as a major. I figured I’d just go into the work force after graduating.”
But by walking on, his life pointed in a decidedly different way.
It wasn’t surprising, in a sense, given his athletic pedigree. His father, Bob, was a basketball standout at Chico State in the late 1950s and early ’60s. His mother, the former Cherrie Parrish, had been a hurdler in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics— a year after Mike was born.
“It was my childhood dream to play pro sports,” Sherrard said. “I always enjoyed sports. I got to high school, and in my senior year, I realized was football my best sport.” He’d lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track.
“When I was little, it was all pretty even,” Sherrard said, referring to the various sports he tried. “As I got older, the less good I was at baseball. I couldn’t have played at Butte in basketball or baseball. I enjoyed the other sports equally, but I knew football was my best chance at playing in college.”
Beck, now retired and living the good life in Higginsville, Mo., saw Sherrard’s rise.
“I knew he was a heck of an athlete,” Beck recalled. “I’d seen him play. He had great hands. He was a great defensive back— he could have made it in the pros on defense.
“He had excellent judgment. He could go to the ball— plus, he had tremendous desire.”
Beck saw plenty of solid prospects in his 22 years at the helm of the Panthers— 1971 through 1992, during which time his clubs won three Northern Section titles.
Interestingly, Sherrard played mostly on defense for Chico, as Beck’s offense did not pass particularly often.
“Mike was an excellent defensive back— a cornerback,” the coach explained. “He didn’t get much an opportunity to catch many passes because we didn’t throw the ball much. I wish I’d had him a few years later when we threw more.”
Even so, Beck said Sherrard was a threat on the play-action formations.
“I knew he had skill, but he was little compared to others around,” Beck said. “When you’d mention his name, people would kind of pooh-pooh you ... but he was very slender and doggone athletic. He was an excellent kickoff and punt returner.”
Beck didn’t need to do much steering of Sherrard, since the latter had already chosen UCLA.
“Mike was a very good student and got admitted to UCLA. He had the confidence and knew he could do it, as a walk-on, and he did it,” Beck said.
“He was a heck of a team player, and every bit as good a citizen and a person. That tells a lot,” the coach said. “He was a leader on the team and everybody liked him – he got along with everybody. His character was very good.”
Likewise, Sherrard had only the highest praise for his mentor, along with varsity basketball coach Ken Piercy.
“My experience in Chico overall a positive one,” Sherrard said. “Coach Beck, and Coach Piercy as well, taught me about winning and believing in myself. Those two helped me succeed in college – along with my parents, who always supported me and never missed a game.”
Sherrard said playing for Beck has left only pleasant memories.
“I really enjoyed playing for Coach Beck,” he said. “Looking back, it was kind of tough for him as head coach. We only had three coaches then.”
Sherrard is now an assistant at Oaks Christian High School – Joe Montana and Wayne Gretzky’s kids attend the school – and is one of nine coaches on the varsity football team.
“Coach Beck was a disciplined coach. He expected us to know our assignments, and it toughened me up. Half the time, he’d make me go with the offensive line players to line up (for specialty practice). It brought me more contact, and I got used to getting hit.”
In addition, Beck “got me in the weight room for the first time,” Sherrard said. “He’d grab my biceps and say: ‘the weight room’s over there.’ I was never more than 165 pounds at 6-2 and he got me into lifting weights.
“It made me faster and more physical. I was almost prepared for the higher levels by the time I got to college.”
Sherrard has carried that work ethic and likability into his post-football career, working for several years as a fundraiser for Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to studying that disorder of neural development. He set up golf tournaments to benefit that group.
Now, Sherrard is “making good progress,” by his account, in trying to produce television shows. He lives in Westlake Village, north of Los Angeles, with his 11-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 10 and 6.
There are seasons in our lives when people help us to become more than we are. For many of us it was a high school coach we had along the way, whose inspiration and encouragement lasted long after high school is over.
Join The Chico High Foundation Board, On Saturday, August 21, 2010, at the Elk's Club on Manzanita Avenue for the first ever Chico High School Sports Reunion.
Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. followed by a BBQ dinner at 7:00 p.m. Varsity Coaches from the last 60 years will be there as well as the former athletes from those golden years.