Coming off one of the best defensive seasons in Canadian Football League history, J.C. Sherritt had no plans of leaving the Edmonton Eskimos.
The club announced Wednesday they’d come to terms with the linebacker and reigning CFL most outstanding defensive player, who set a league record with 130 tackles last season, on a three-year deal that includes a club option for 2015.
While Sherritt was eligible to test the CFL free agent market, which is set to open Feb. 15, the hiring of Ed Hervey as Eskimo general manager coupled with head coach Kavis Reed returning for next season made Sherritt more than happy to stay.
“When I found out that Ed and Kavis were going to be coming back and be running this organization, it was really a no-brainer for me to come back to Edmonton,” Sherritt said. “There’s no other team that I want to play for, anyway. To have those guys in place, it made it an easy decision. I love playing for Edmonton — the organization and the city.
“Kavis is a coach that you want to play for — period.”
With nine defensive starters eligible for free agency after this past season, the signing of Sherritt strikes one very important task off the Eskimo to-do list this off-season, after the five-foot-nine linebacker emerged as the CFL’s top defender in only his second season.
Coming just over a week after Hervey ascended to the role of GM, the announcement of Sherritt’s extension in Edmonton didn’t come as a surprise after Hervey hinted he’d have good news on the team’s potential free agents when he was unveiled as GM on Dec. 10.
“That is priority No. 1,” Hervey said then about trying to keep the defence intact. “Kavis, Paul Jones (the Eskimo assistant GM/director of player personnel) and myself, we have done a pretty good job of reaching out to all the guys that we want, and there are going to be a few signings here in the near future that you’ll be impressed with.”
Sherritt proved to be the first big defensive signing since Hervey took over as GM.
“It didn’t take a whole lot. I knew that when Ed got the position and when Kavis decided (he’d be back), I knew they’d have some stuff to take care of,” Sherritt said. “I was patient with it, and those guys were great with getting in contact with me. I’m really happy that it’s done now and out of the way.”
As for any pressure that will come for the former NCAA Division I national champion, who will be expected to put up big numbers over the course of the three-year deal, expectations are nothing new.
“It seems like every year, there’s something that’s supposed to be really pressure packing,” Sherritt said. “You come off a great rookie year, how do you handle that? You come out of college winning a league championship, how do you handle that?
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of pressure filled things. As a player you’ve got to thrive off of and enjoy it.”
After a tumultuous season that saw the Eskimos finish last in the West with a 7-11 record, which was good enough for a crossover date with the eventual Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts, signing Sherritt highlights one of the few positives to come out of 2012 for Edmonton.
“Last year (was) obviously a season of highs and lows,” Hervey said Wednesday. “One of the highs of last season was definitely the play of JC Sherritt.”
It’s been a remarkable ride for a player who, coming out of his first training camp with the Eskimos back in 2011, was sent to the practice roster, only to get into the lineup due to an injury and make 11 tackles in his CFL debut.
“Body types don’t necessarily need to fit inside a box,” Hervey said of his undersized linebacker. “JC took full advantage of every opportunity given to him, and because of the last two seasons, he was obviously rewarded for his services.”
The contract was an early Christmas gift for Sherritt, who’s spending the holiday season with family in Pullman, Wash., and like many of his Eskimo teammates, he’s optimistic about the direction the club is headed.
“‘Excited’ would be the best word for it, or ‘eager,’ ” Sherritt said of the mood around the team. “We can’t wait to get back and get to work. We know we have a special core of players and a special group of guys that are coming back. I’m sure they’ll be more joining us, so I just can’t wait, and I know talking to some of the guys in Edmonton and guys around both countries, people are just really excited right now.”