As Jordan Sherit lay sprawled out on the ground of Doak Campbell Stadium, staring into the sky with tears in his eyes while Florida’s training staff attended to his knee, he couldn’t help but question his future as a college football player.
Just moments prior, Sherit was attempting to bat down a pass from Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois when teammate Caleb Brantley rolled into his right leg.
The blow ended his redshirt junior season right then and there, with Sherit needing assistance from two UF staff members to help him hobble through the end zone and into the locker room.
The 6-foot-4 defensive lineman had been through this situation more than once before.
He tore his ACL halfway through his senior year of high school, forcing him to miss extended time when he arrived in Gainesville.
Then, in his first full season with the Gators in 2014, another injury held him off the field in three of Florida’s final four games.
With his history of health issues growing larger by the year, Sherit wondered whether a return to UF this fall was the right decision.
But when the team’s spring practices began on Feb. 28 and he was forced to watch from the sideline, Sherit realized one final season in college was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“Spring was a turning point,” he said. “I wasn’t able to practice and it was kind of that deciding factor of, ‘Do I want to come back? Do I want to put myself through this again?’ Without question I wanted to come back.”
Sherit’s choice to ultimately suit up in orange and blue one last time this fall has been fairly beneficial for the Gators (3-2, 3-1 SEC) through their first five games. The Tampa native has recorded a team-leading seven quarterback hurries, as well as 19 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, all of which are on pace to top career highs.
“I feel like this might be my best year,” he said. “I owe it to guys in that room. The coaching staff, the team, the guys that pushed me to come back.”
Co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Chris Rumph said Sherit’s knee injury at the end of last season caused him to change his mindset, going from a player whose game was predicated on strength and athleticism to a player guided by his strong football IQ.
“With the injury, I think it forced him to be more of a student of the game,” Rumph said. “He (hasn’t been) able to do some of the things he’s done before he got injured. So now, ‘I’ve got to be fundamentally technique sound because I’m just a little off with my legs’ and stuff like that.”
Sherit’s maturity as a redshirt senior has set a strong example for Florida’s underclassmen as well.
Born on Sept. 4, 1994, he is the oldest defensive lineman on the team at 23 and has embraced serving as a leader for the position group’s younger players.
On Tuesday afternoon during the Gators’ practice, Rumph became frustrated with first-year defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe and started screaming at him.
Sherit, who noticed Conliffe was visibly shaken, wrapped his arm around the freshman when practice ended and told him to “keep working.”
“After that, I could see the body language of (Conliffe) just changing,” Rumph said. “You can’t help but respect (Sherit). He’s a guy who does it right on and off the field.”
While Sherit has been pleased with how his redshirt senior campaign has unfolded thus far, it has also begun to hit him that his run at UF is nearing an end.
“It’s pretty crazy that my days in The Swamp are numbered,” he said. “That’s why I have to cherish every bit of time I get and put in as much work as I possibly can.”
For now though, Sherit is focused on Florida’s matchup with Texas A&M on Saturday night, a crucial game for both teams in their quest for an SEC championship.
“We just gotta get back to the drawing board and a lot of our goals are still attainable,” he said. “For us to still be successful, we have to change a lot of stuff that we do and work harder on the practice field.”
You can follow Dylan Dixon on Twitter @dylanrdixon, and contact him at [email protected].