MSU lands a Calhoun-type DE in transfer Sherrod

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Mark Dantonio watches a defensive drill during MSU's practice on Monday.

East Lansing – Gabe Sherrod wants to win – it’s that simple.

That’s why, as he contemplated where he would play his final season of college football, Sherrod narrowed it down to two teams he watched play each other in last season’s College Football Playoff – Michigan State and Alabama.

The graduate transfer defensive end from Delaware State had committed to Syracuse, but when two of the best came knocking this past spring, he was listening.

“Every program I’ve been in it’s never been my time to win,” Sherrod said. “It’s always been rebuilding.”

Alabama is the defending national champion while Michigan State has won two of the last three Big Ten titles and has won 11 or more games in five of the last six seasons.

That type of success is what Sherrod was looking for, primarily. What also swayed him to ultimately pick the Spartans was the opportunity to play and the straight-forward conversation he had with coach Mark Dantonio.

“When I sat down in the meeting room with him, he didn’t sugar-coat anything,” Sherrod said. “He told me what I needed to work on and what it would take to start here. That type of motivation challenged me, and when I went home it made me think. He wanted me to come here not only because he sees the good but he sees the bad and knows I can work on those things and be successful here.”

Gabe Sherrod

There’s certainly the opportunity to be successful, something Sherrod wondered if he’d get at Alabama. “They have a lot of guys that can rush the passer there,” he said.

At Michigan State, it’s something that is one of the few unknowns for the defense. Shilique Calhoun and Lawrence Thomas are off to the NFL and the Spartans could use an infusion of talent on the end.

Sherrod could be just what they need to potentially team with junior Demetrius Cooper and provide little drop-off for the front four. To do that, however, Sherrod will have to make the jump from the FCS level. It’s something that didn’t take long for the 6-foot-3, 250-pound former high school quarterback to understand.

“Josiah (Price) woke me up that tight ends up here can actually block,” Sherrod said. “So that is an adjustment, learning to compete with guys of that stature.

“It’s not so much physically, they’re just better technique-sound guys here. I could push over people at Delaware State. It’s harder here. I actually have to work to get off blocks and things like that. That’s the biggest adjustment.”

There’s been signs already of that adjustment from Sherrod. He’s wearing the same No. 89 Calhoun wore as he became an All-American, but that’s not where the comparison ends.

“He’s more of a flash for us, more of a Shilique Calhoun-type guy,” Dantonio said before preseason camp began. “He’s a runner, a guy that can chase you down and do those type of things. But he’s gotta compete at this level. That’s gonna be a change for him in that capacity.”

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Sherrod isn’t comparing himself to Calhoun just yet. Instead, he’s focused on learning a new defense and becoming acclimated to his new surroundings.

Part of that is going from the star at Delaware State to understanding he’s just another piece to the defensive puzzle at Michigan State.

“At Delaware State I was the defense,” Sherrod said. “I could basically do whatever I wanted and just be a football player. I’m not saying I was playing outside the scheme all the time but I could go make plays. Here there are a lot of guys that can play. There are good players everywhere, so I’m learning where my help is coming from and where my leverage needs to be and what my technique needs to be.

“The coaches are harping on getting everything down and playing fast and playing physical. They tell everybody the goal is to get 3 percent better each day and tell me I need to get 5 percent better.”

It’s that approach Sherrod is comfortable with. He doesn’t see himself as the star at Michigan State, and quite frankly, he never viewed himself that way. That’s because nothing has ever been certain for the native of Perryville, Md.

He ran the Wing-T offense as a quarterback in high school before being moved to receiver when he arrived at Delaware State. He kept growing and was moved to tight end before finally ending up at defensive end, where he flourished.

As a junior, Sherrod had 25 tackles for loss, including eight sacks. His 2.3 tackles for loss per game was second-best in the FCS.

“I’ve always had to work and understand that there is always something bigger than me, which is the team,” he said.

It’s that mentality that should suit him well at Michigan State, a place he’s getting used to rather quickly.

“It’s still a weird feeling to know I play for Michigan State and I’m not watching them on TV,” Sherrod said. “But it’s just an exciting feeling.”