GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jordan Sherit’s nickname is actually one he attempted to pass off to a teammate.
Early in their careers at Florida, Sherit would call roommate and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves “Papo,” a Cuban phrase of endearment that Sherit said is the equivalent of “bro” or “my friend.”
Hargreaves returned the favor.
“When I would make a play, in the defensive meeting room he would say ‘Papo made a play,’ ” Sherit said.
The nickname stuck with Sherit. It started with Hargreaves, the two-year roommate and three-year teammate who enrolled with Sherit in 2013. Then the position coaches began embracing it. Eventually then-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins joined in on the fun.
“Now,” Sherit said, “it seems like the coaches and the players don’t even know my real name.”
Fast forward to 2017. Hargreaves is in his second season in the NFL, a first-round draft pick playing on Sundays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sherit is a fifth-year senior defensive lineman at Florida, one of just five players left from that 2013 recruiting class that ranked third in the country, according to the 247Sports composite.
And Papo is making plays on a regular basis for the Gators.
After four years of fighting for playing time and fighting through injuries, Sherit is emerging as a veteran presence on a young Florida defense.
It’s a testament to his perseverance. It’s a sign that Sherit might be turning the corner in his last attempt to impress NFL scouts.
And it provides him with a sense of relief after not being able to live up to his potential for the first four years.
“For me,” Sherit said, “I always thought I was always that one step away.”
‘Do I want to come back?’
All Jordan Sherit could do last spring was watch from the sidelines. After undergoing season-ending surgery on his right knee last fall, Sherit was not medically cleared to go through spring practice with the rest of the team.
Once again, an injury was holding him back.
But this time almost became the last time.
“Do I want to come back?” Sherit asked himself. “Do I want to put myself through this again?”
He had been through the injury cycle before.
Sherit redshirted his freshman season at Florida in 2013 while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered during his senior year of high school.
He missed three of the final four games in 2014 with an injury after playing a spot role on the defense, recording 3 tackles and a pass deflection. After a redshirt sophomore season in which Sherit was healthy, he missed the final two games of 2016 with that right knee injury.
“Right after it happened I was kinda bummed,” Sherit said. “I didn’t really know what the future would be before I knew what the injury was.”
After surgery that fall and contemplation that spring, Sherit knew the answer.
“Without question I wanted to come back,” he said. “I feel like this might be my best year.”
Sherit knew the road wouldn’t necessarily be an easy one, but he devoted himself to mastering the playbook to ensure he could compete at his potential despite potentially being slowed by the injury.
“Before, you probably can get away with some athleticism,” defensive line coach Chris Rumph said. “Now he knows, ‘I need to be right.’ ”
After nine months away from the sport or practicing in a limited capacity, Sherit returned to full-contact drills in mid-August and quickly established himself as one of Florida’s most consistent pass rushers on the defensive line.
He still wears a brace on his right leg, but he’s not going to let a minor setback slow him down.
“He’s finally healthy,” Rumph said. “[He’s] got some strength in his legs, been able to rehab this offseason. He’s done an unbelievable job.
“He’s starting to step up.”
‘You can’t help but respect that guy’
After the Gators finished practice on Tuesday, Sherit looked over and saw freshman Elijah Conliffe looking depressed. Rumph had just ripped into the defensive tackle and Sherit could tell the youngster needed a pick-me-up.
So Sherit walked over and wrapped his arm around the freshman as they were walking off the practice field.
“Man, look, it’s going to be all right,” Rumph said he overheard Sherit tell Conliffe. “I got the same thing. … Just listen to it. Just keep working.”
“I could see the body language of Elijah just changing,” Rumph added in reflection.
As a fifth-year senior on a defense that is predominantly filled with underclassmen, Sherit has served as a voice of reason. A guy who knows the expectations. A guy who has gone through the struggles most of his teammates are going through now.
“They respect the guy,” Rumph said. “You can’t help but respect that guy. He’s a guy who does it right on and off the field. You’ve got to respect that and listen to that.”
Florida coach Jim McElwain added: “He’s a real stabilizer out there for all the young guys that we have on the field. I don’t know, he might have been a babysitter for some of them when he was growing up.”
Rumph praised Sherit’s work ethic and willingness to take command of a situation.
“He’s always been a guy who [has] attention to detail,” Rumph said. “He’s going to do his job.”
And that’s all Sherit tries to do each time he takes the field.
“Critics can say a lot of things about me,” Sherit said, “but I never want anyone to say I don’t play hard. That’s probably the best praise I can get from any coach.”
‘It’s never too late’
Sherit knows time is running out.
Each passing week gradually brings closer the end of his college career. Each week, the reality of knowing that this season — his last season at Florida — will ultimately be the difference maker between a chance at a professional football career and hanging up the helmet for good.
Sherit has a backup plan should the latter become his future. He is working on his master’s degree in international business and spent a week last spring in Munich, Germany, as part of a study abroad trip.
But Sherit is OK with putting that on the back burner if he can pursue an NFL career. He has seen teammates from his recruiting class back in 2013 already make the jump to the pros.
Hargreaves. Keanu Neal. Jarrad Davis. Alex Anzalone. Caleb Brantley.
Sherit wants to be next.
“It’s never too late,” he said.
And with his start to the 2017 season, it might not be out of the question.
Five games into the season, Sherit leads Florida’s defensive linemen with 7 quarterback hurries and 19 tackles. He has added 4.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks along the way. According to Pro Football Focus’ Vinny Ronca, Sherit has graded out as the second-best edge rusher in the SEC through the first six weeks of the season.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised,” Sherit said. “I’m just happy.”
He’s playing with a bigger burst off the edge than he did earlier in his career. He’s more cognizant of how plays are going to develop before the snap.
And he’s playing with an extra sense of urgency as the clock keeps ticking.
“Anytime you get near the end, man, you start seeing the light,” Rumph said. “That tunnel, you’re like, ‘Wow, man, this is it for me. I need to go out with a bang.’ ”
He’s had help, too.
Florida has had a steady rotation of four defensive ends all season in Sherit, CeCe Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga and Jachai Polite. The quartet is responsible for 20 of Florida’s 35 tackles for loss and 9 of 13 sacks.
Sherit said that competition fuels him and the rest of the linemen. They know one bad rep in practice could be the difference in how much playing time they get.
“We’ll rag on each other. We’ll compete back and forth. We’ll say things. We’re trying to beat each other out,” Sherit said. “[But] to have that sort of brotherhood, to have that camaraderie … It’s great.”
And Papo plans to embrace that brotherhood for as long as he can.
“My days on that field, my days in the Swamp are numbered,” Sherit said. “That’s why I have to cherish every bit of time I get and put in as much work as I possibly can.”