ATHENS -- Mekhail Sherman, or MJ for those who can’t pronounce his first name of Muh-kyle, has had to wait his turn for playing and leadership opportunities.
Now a junior, Sherman is making the most of his significant playing time on special teams.
RELATED: MJ Sherman’s intensity fuels excitement over his future with Georgia football
Sherman has remained patient and determined at Georgia, qualities he attributes to a background unique to those of most of his teammates.
Sherman is the son of Varney Sherman, a Liberian Senator. The Georgia outside linebacker has kept a strong relationship with his father and his family’s country of origin, despite the distance between them.
Roughly 5,000 miles from Liberia, Sherman carries a reminder of his family’s roots with him. The outside linebacker wears a golden pendant shaped like the continent of Africa, a gift from his father.
“More and more, I started to see the uniqueness in it,” Mekhail said. “Not everybody has this chain. I can’t forget about my roots and plus, this is one of the first true gifts my dad gave to me.
“Not a lot of people get to establish their relationship with their dad, and me and my dad, we hold strong to this day. I wear this to remind me of him.”
Varney’s leadership through difficult times – both as a politician and as a father – illustrate qualities his son tries to mirror in Athens.
“Going back to one of our core traits that we have right now is basically resiliency,” MJ Sherman said. “Imagine, there was a civil war that broke out in Liberia … which forced a lot of immigrants to America and through all of that, he still kept his political atmosphere, his political status and did whatever he had to do … as well as take care of his four children.
In a program where a player of his caliber is forced to be patient for starting opportunities, that resiliency learned from his father has been key for Sherman.
A former top-35 recruit, Sherman might have expected to be a bigger piece of the Georgia team by now. The Bulldogs took only one outside linebacker in the 2020 recruiting cycle and that was Sherman, as opposed to in-state prospects such as Alabama’s Will Anderson or LSU’s BJ Ojulari.
The 6-2, 250-pounder’s patience – among other traits – was challenged last season as a backup for Georgia’s historically great 2021 defense.
“I would say I grew a lot, more so in the sense where humility was part of that and a lot of understanding and connection was a part of that, too,” Sherman said. “(Georgia coach Kirby) Smart, he preaches that best about connection … and that’s one of the things that really helped me stay grounded and humble throughout the process of being a reserve.
Smart might care more about special teams play than any other aspect of his team. If you’re making plays there, it likely won’t be long until you find yourself as a key player on offense or defense.
Sherman knows that his ticket to playing time. And he’s making the most out of it.
“I take it very seriously, honestly,” Sherman said. “Every day, we try to fight for opportunities and show that we’re capable of doing what we’ve got to do on the field. Just as serious as you take your nine-to-five job is as serious as I take my special teams job.”
Motivated by Varney’s strength and resiliency, Mekhail continues to reflect his father’s actions in humility and determination.
After all, that is why he is at Georgia.
“What I play football for is to try to create generational value and welfare for me and my family.”