ATHENS — Mekhail Sherman, or MJ for those who can’t pronounce his first name Muh-kyle, had to wait his turn for opportunities to play and lead.
Now a junior, Sherman is making the most of his significant playing time on special teams.
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Sherman has remained patient and determined in Georgia, traits he attributes to a background unique to most of his teammates.
Sherman is the son of Varney Sherman, a Liberian Senator. The Georgia full-back has maintained a strong bond with his father and his family’s country of origin despite the distance between them.
Some 5,000 miles from Liberia, Sherman carries with him a reminder of his family roots. The outside linebacker wears a gold pendant in the shape of the African continent, a gift from his father.
“More and more I started to see the uniqueness in it,” Mekhail said. “Not everyone has this chain. I can’t forget my roots, and besides, this is one of the first true gifts my dad gave me.
“Not many people are able to build their relationship with their father and me and my father hold on to this day. I wear this to remember him.”
Varney’s leadership through difficult times – both as a politician and as a father – exemplifies qualities his son is trying to mirror in Athens.
“Going back to one of our core qualities that we have right now is basically resilience,” MJ Sherman said. “Imagine a civil war broke out in Liberia… forcing many immigrants to America, and through it all he maintained his political vibe, political status, and did whatever he had to do… and also took care of his four children.
In a program where a player of his caliber is forced to wait patiently for starting opportunities, that resilience learned from his father was key for Sherman.
As a former top-35 recruit, Sherman might have expected to be a bigger part of the Georgia team by now. The Bulldogs picked only one outside linebacker in the 2020 recruiting cycle, and that was Sherman, as opposed to state prospects like Alabama’s Will Anderson or LSU’s BJ Ojulari.
The 6-2, 250-pounder’s patience was challenged – among other qualities – last season as a backup for Georgia’s historically great defense in 2021.
“I would say I’ve grown a lot, more so in the sense that there was humility with it and there was a lot of understanding and connection with it too,” Sherman said. “(Georgia coach Kirby) Smart, he preaches the best about connections… and that’s one of the things that’s really helped me stay grounded and humble throughout the process of being a reserve player.
Smart may be more interested in the special teams game than any other aspect of his team. If you play there, it probably won’t be long before you find yourself as a key player on offense or defense.
Sherman knows his ticket is game time. And he makes the best of it.
“I take it very seriously, honestly,” Sherman said. “We try every day to fight for chances and to show on the field that we can do what we have to do. Just as seriously as you take your nine-to-five job is just as serious as I take my special teams job.”
Motivated by Varney’s strength and resilience, Mekhail continues to mirror his father’s exploits with humility and determination.
After all, that’s why he’s with Georgia.
“What I play football for is to try to create generational value and prosperity for myself and my family.”