Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen calls Derek Sherrod the best offensive tackle he has ever been around.
That’s high praise for the Bulldogs’ senior All-American.
But as good as Sherrod was on the field this season, he might have been even better in the classroom and in the locker room.
Simply, he was the quintessential student and the quintessential leader and one of the main cogs in this program’s turnaround the past couple of years.
“Derek’s the kind of player you build programs around,” Mullen said.
Sherrod, one of 16 National Football Foundation scholar-athletes this season in college football, plays his final collegiate game on Saturday in the Progressive Gator Bowl against Michigan.
He does so with the satisfaction that Mississippi State’s program is clearly headed in the right direction.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes here, been a part of a lot of changes,” said the 6-6, 310-pound Sherrod. “We have a totally different mentality and attitude from the past when I first got here. I’m proud of the track the program is on, and obviously this game means a lot to all of us. We know how to win now, and we’re going to try and continue that.
“I won’t be here to see us reach all our goals, but I know we’re going to get there.”
Sherrod has been a staple at left tackle for the Bulldogs the past three seasons.
He’s a polished pass protector, but also a physical run blocker. When the Bulldogs needed the tough yards, they usually followed No. 79’s lead. They were second in the SEC this season in rushing offense after leading the league a year ago.
It’s a shame more players haven't followed Sherrod’s lead off the field.
He already has his undergraduate degree in business administration, compiling a 3.54 GPA. He’s now in graduate school and pursuing a master’s degree in sports administration.
Sherrod credits his parents, Louis and Harriet Sherrod, for instilling in him at a young age the importance of academics. He wishes more players would take advantage of their opportunities in the classroom.
“It just opens up so many other doors for you no matter how much pro football you play, and it’s always something you can fall back on,” Sherrod said. “It’s a very competitive world, and you can never have enough things working for you in your corner.”
Sherrod said this is the closest team he’s played on, and it’s a bond that only grew stronger after the death of teammate Nick Bell in November.
“It was tough on everybody,” Sherrod said. “The only way we got through that was leaning on each other and being there for each other every way possible.”
Sherrod has done a little reflecting these past few weeks, but not too much. He’s accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl and is being projected by several analysts to be a first-round selection in April’s NFL draft.
Right now, though, Sherrod can’t see past Saturday’s game, the Bulldogs’ first Jan. 1 bowl appearance since the 1998 season.
“The seniors have fought through a lot here and been through a lot,” Sherrod said. “We’ve learned to fight for each other.
“Now, it’s all come down to this. We want to make it our best game.”