By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State offensive lineman Derek Sherrod has said he’ll always consider the Starkville-Columbus area his home but can’t wait to move to his new locale.
For somebody that has nearly never left the Golden Triangle area of Mississippi since childhood, the smallest market size of the National Football League and community atmosphere of Green Bay, Wis., is a perfect fit for the their newest left tackle.
“Yeah it definitely excites me to be going to a franchise that has the best fan support,” Sherrod said. “It seems like people throughout the state come to watch the games, they bring their cheese heads and I’m excited about moving there and becoming a member of the Packer family.”
Green Bay, Wis. is a town with the population of 104,057 (2010 census report), which is half the size of the next largest city of Buffalo, N.Y. (261,310). The Packers are the only publicly owned franchise in professional football that has a waiting list for season tickets of about 86,000 people, meaning there are now more names on the waiting list than there are seats at Lambeau Field (the average wait time for season tickets is said to be over 30 years).
Sherrod’s father Louis made many trips to Milwaukee and Green Bay as a truck driver for Schneider National and would drive by Lambeau Field every time he was in Wisconsin.
Sherrod compared the Green Bay fan base, which he’s just seen on television, to a Southeastern Conference community atmosphere where the entire state literally and figuratively takes ownership in the green and gold.
Sherrod said he was “excited about moving to a passionate community” and couldn’t wait to be a part of a town where he’ll be noticed in every-day errand running like going to the grocery store.
After watching over three hours of first round draft coverage, Sherrod said he remained calm despite not hearing his name called and seeing multiple offensive tackles taken late in the evening.
"It was a lot of anxiousness among the people around with having so many friends and family gathered here but once it happened, it was a special moment for everybody involved,” Sherrod said. "I'm thrilled with the pick. I know that the chances were limited but I was pretty calm about it throughout.”
It immediately popped into the 318-pounder’s mind the criticism that had been publicly said about him in the recent months, which essentially is based upon the idea he’s too nice to play offensive line in the National Football League.
“I understand when you play football you have to be nasty about it,” Sherrod said. “I know that it can be interpreted that I don't play with that streak during games but I understand that I as an offensive lineman have to be mean and nasty to the guy in front of me. One of the things that matters to me is when pro teams asked me that question I turned to football and not off the field because those are two totally different things to me.”
It was the multiple friends and family in attendance for his draft party at the Fairfield Inn in Columbus that Sherrod was concerned about at the time – especially his parents.
“It was certainly the case that my parents were much more nervous than I was in the last hour or so,” said Sherrod with a loud laugh. "I was just sitting in the back laughing and joking with everybody in the room until my phone rang. I was pretty calm because I was sure the call would come eventually.”
Immediately after the pick was announced analysts had mixed reviews on the television coverage with ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., and NFL Network expert Mike Mayock agreeing the selection was a good fit for the Packers franchise.
“Sherrod is a great value at the end of round one and has the ability to be the Packers starting left tackle of the future,” National Football Post scouting director Wes Bunting. “He's a good athlete who displays impressive change of direction skills and balance in pass protection and can create leverage in the run game as well. A bright kid who will be able to learn the playbook quickly and in my mind is a better prospect than both Nate Solder (taken by New England at No. 17) and Anthony Castonzo (taken by Indianapolis at No. 22).”
Sherrod joked late Thursday night when he called the Starkville Daily News that at that time, the only thing people are telling him about his new home is he’ll quickly need to use part of his future signing bonus to buy a winter wardrobe for a climate he’s never experienced being born in California and growing up in Mississippi.
"(My parents) love it and am very proud of me for this new chapter in our lives,” Sherrod said. “They're ready to come to watch me play in Wisconsin."
Sherrod told the SDN he had interviews with the Packers throughout the draft process including after the scouting combine but wasn’t completely sure of their interest.
“I really tried to keep my mind open about the teams and their interest,” Sherrod said. “I learned quickly you can't pinpoint a team but I was upbeat when they came up last.”
When Sherrod’s phone rang, he spoke to Packers general manager Ted Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator James Hagen.
“We’ll figure out all those pieces, how it fits together,” Philbin said. “We’ll get to know him better and validate the things we saw on tape once we get him here.”
In their post-draft media conference, executives and coaches in the Green Bay franchise were pleased with the potential of the Sherrod pick despite not exactly knowing which side of the line he’ll be used in protecting a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player in quarterback Aaron Rogers.
“We think it’s a really good value to get a big man that late in the first round we feel like can come in and help us,” said Thompson, who said he took the requisite phone calls exploring trades both up and down without anything materializing. “Where he’s gonna play I don’t know, but I know this – you can never have too many big men. The more run-blockers and the more pass-blockers we have, the better we’ll do.”
ESPN reported early Friday afternoon the Cincinnati Bengals were in deep conversations with the Packers executives to move into the 32nd pick to take Texas Christian quarterback Andy Dalton but could get the deal done in time. Cincinnati eventually got the Horned Frogs signal caller in the second round.
According to the Packers web site, Sherrod’s jersey, which is No. 78, is already on sale for fans to purchase.
"I'm definitely looking forward to meeting Aaron Rodgers and I'm basically there to protect him," Sherrod said in his media teleconference. "That's what I do, I go in and work hard and make sure that nobody hits the quarterback. I don't give up sacks, I take pride in not letting anybody even touch my quarterback (or) get near my quarterback.”