MJ Sherman’s intensity fuels excitement over his future with Georgia football

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Why MJ Sherman is clearly more than an athlete for Georgia football

Georgia signed just one linebacker in its 2020 recruiting class. When you consider that the Bulldogs loaded up at both inside and outside linebacker positions in the 2019 recruiting cycle, it made sense that Georgia didn’t put an emphasis on adding bodies as it did at wide receiver and offensive line.

But that doesn’t mean that the Bulldogs didn’t find a way to add another talented and promising player to its team. Because Georgia’s lone linebacker signee, Mekhail Sherman — MJ as his teammates and coaches call him — seems to have an incredibly bright future in front of him.

Sherman played in one of the top high school leagues in the country, as he starred for  St. John’s College in Washington D.C. Sherman was one of the top players in the league, as he was one of five finalists for the 2019 Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top high school linebacker.

His physical talents are a big reason for his lofty recruiting rankings, where he came in as the No. 32 overall prospect in the class.

“MJ is strong, fast, he can do everything you want him to do,” teammate Azeez Ojulari said. “He’s just coming in with his head down, doing his part and working hard.”

At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds he does have the physical ability to play either inside or outside linebacker. Prior to his junior season of high school, Sherman ran a 4.53 40-dash at the 2018 Nike Opening. For comparison, Roquan Smith ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the 2018 NFL Draft Scouting Combine.

Sherman’s speed and physical attributes though aren’t the things teammates and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning bring up first when speaking about Sherman.

“MJ’s a tremendous person. He’s got a great mindset. He’s hungry. Comes from a really good family, works really, really hard, and is conscientious,” Lanning said.

Sherman suffered a torn ACL and partial meniscus tear that took away most of his junior season and prevented him from showcasing his athleticism on the recruiting circuit. Sherman was rated as a 5-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings until the final ranking update when he lost his 5-star status and finished as the highest rated 4-star prospect for the entire 2020 cycle.

While he was cleared and played for St. John’s during his senior season, he was never close to being 100 percent. At the Under Armour All-American practices last January, Sherman estimated that his knee at that point was still only 80-to-85 percent of where it was prior to the injury.

That kind of adversity — where you get so close to having your dream of playing college football only to have it come into question because of injury — is a difficult thing for anyone to grapple with. Much less your traditional high schooler.

Sherman though doesn’t come across as your average teenager. Just listening to him speak, you get the impression that it’s someone whose much more mature and fiery than some of his peers.

“He seemed like a really genuine kid, really straight-up kid,” Jamaree Salyer said. “That’s one guy I really look forward to seeing compete at that level. I like him as a person, and I like her personality.”

Salyer added that he was a fan of the interviews Sherman gave in high school. When Sherman speaks, he does so with a rare intensity and purpose in his voice.

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At the Under Armour All-American game in January, Sherman practiced at the inside linebacker, even though his future at Georgia was as an outside linebacker. Sherman never really looked comfortable during practices, in part because of the knee brace he was wearing which seemed to require constant adjusting.

Come game time though, Sherman looked like a natural. He racked up six tackles including two that resulted in a loss. After the exhibition game, you would expect him to be relaxed and at ease. He had played well and there didn’t seem to be anything at stake.

When he spoke though it became clear that even an exhibition game required an extreme level of focus and passion.

“I did what I had to do and did more,” Sherman said. “Just because I had an ACL injury doesn’t mean nothing. That didn’t take away from my ability. I did what I can do best, which is play linebacker and be free.”

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Related: MJ Sherman’s linebacker play highlights what we learned at Under Armour All-American Game

His voice and experiences are why someone like Salyer tabbed him as a possible future leader. Sherman was a vocal member of Georgia’s 2020 recruiting class and a key reason why the Bulldogs put together the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

It’s all part of the package of why he was Georgia’s top linebacker target, even with the knee injury. When he announced his commitment to Georgia in May of 2019, he still hadn’t been cleared to return from his injury. It didn’t matter. The Bulldogs so clearly believed in what Sherman can do for the program.

Given the intensity, the athletic gifts and even the name, it’s easy to want to invoke the name of Michael Jordan when talking about Sherman. He did wear No. 23 in high school, but to start his Georgia career he’ll end up wearing No. 8. And his full name is Mekhail Jaquces Sherman, hence the abbreviated nickname.

Anyone who saw the Last Dance documentary saw first hand how Jordan’s intensity was such an integral part of the Chicago Bulls winning six titles.  In speaking with Sherman and his teammates, it’s clear there’s a fire within Sherman to succeed and thrive at the highest levels, much like there was in Jordan.

It’s obviously a bit much to compare Sherman to the greatest basketball player of all-time. The former has yet to play a down for the Bulldogs and given the crowded depth chart in front of him, it’s not even guaranteed he’ll be a regular contributor for the Georgia defense in his freshman season.

Sherman has overcome tougher challenges before. At a minimum, he’s got the potential to factor into Georgia’s special teams units. Sherman, like Jordan, just wants to win and however he can help the team, he’ll try to.

It’s why even just days into his first practices at Georgia, there’s already an excitement for what he’ll become as both a football player and leader in the seasons to come.

“He’s got strength, power, and agility that we think can be a real asset for him moving forward,” Lanning said. “So excited about his development and to see what he can do.”

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