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Battle-tested Trent Sherfield is a hometown hero on and off the field

From early struggles in high school, to going undrafted, Trent Sherfield has dealt with his fair share of challenges. But he continues to show up.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Trent Sherfield was born an athlete. He always excelled in a competitive environment, from playing football with his uncles in the backyard in his hometown of Danville, Illinois, as a little tike to eventually suiting up in pads in the NFL.

So much so he pursued track and field, baseball, and basketball, too, as a high schooler—a true multi-sport athlete. But there was always something different about what he did on the gridiron. Of course, he liked all the other sports, but man, did he love football, his mom Tedrone Gouard said.

“I heard him calling out the snap count in his sleep,” Gouard recalled about Sherfield’s high school days. “I was like, ‘Yeah, this dude is really all about football,’”

Of course, the dream was to get to the NFL, but it wasn’t going to be a straight path for Sherfield to get there. Early in his high school career, he focused too much on hitting the field and not enough on hitting the books.

“He wasn’t an academic athlete,” Gouard said of Sherfield’s freshman year. But, luckily, it wasn’t too late to turn things around.

“[I told him] if you want to go Division I, you have to have the grades. You can’t just be an athlete. That first year of high school, his grades weren’t the best. I told him, ‘These grades will follow you.’ He had to dig himself out of that hole all the way through senior year.” said Gouard.

As his grades improved, so did his skills on the football field. He eventually earned the coveted spot as starting quarterback in his junior and senior year for Danville High School, a Class 6A program in Eastern Illinois. He amassed 4790 yards and 43 touchdowns in those two seasons under center, including a standout performance in the 2013 season opener where he tallied 443 yards and seven touchdowns. He also started three years at defensive back, where he notched 146 tackles and six interceptions.

The standout athlete drew eyes from several top programs, including Purdue, Penn State, Northern Illinois, Indiana, and Illinois. Then came Vanderbilt. The Commodores eventually earned Sherfield’s commitment as a wide receiver, but mom was worried about the academic rigor of what’s often regarded as the Harvard of the South.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if my kid can handle Vandy,” said Gouard. “But you know, he’s just constantly progressed. If you get a Vandy degree, that could take you just about anywhere.”

Sherfield wasn’t just a student of the game but a dedicated pupil, too, becoming an avid reader, much to his mom’s surprise.

“I would have never thought that my child would be a reader. But I think that has helped him grow with his like patience and just centering himself,” said Gouard. “He reads a lot of books about growth and just being mature. All types of different books. I think that has actually helped him just see different perspectives of situations.”

His growth showed on the football field, too. As a captain at Vanderbilt, Sherfield started every game as a senior where he became the team leader with a career-high 729 yards and ranked second on the team with 50 catches and five touchdown receptions. He’s ranked eighth all-time in the Vanderbilt record books for receiving yards and receptions.

But the path to success still would be riddled with more challenges and disappointment along the way for Sherfield. His standout senior year performance for the Commodores wasn’t enough to earn him an invitation to the NFL Combine, nor a selection in the NFL Draft.

“I let him know that just because it didn’t go the route that you expected it to go, I’m still proud of you. Even if you don’t make it to the league, I’m still proud of you,” described Gouard. “But to see him constantly overcome obstacles in getting to the league....He was undrafted, so every year, he has to make the roster, and he continues to do so by beating out other players who were actually drafted or in other situations. It just warms my heart as a mom to see him work so hard, and it pay off.”

The former undrafted free agent first signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 and was mentored by Larry Fitzgerald before landing with the Niners in March of 2021 on a one-year deal.

The 6-foot-1, 219-pounder seems to be his own worst critic, always finding ways he could be doing better. But in those moments, Gouard is always there to lift him up.

“He still kind of gets discouraged. He doesn’t say much, but I know he does,” said Gouard.

A mother’s intuition.

“Every now and then, he’ll say, ‘Hey Mom, I just feel like maybe I’m not where I’m supposed to be, or maybe I haven’t accomplished enough. But I say, ‘Trent, you’re literally in the NFL.’ That’s what always has driven him to be the best,” said Gouard.

Even if his role on the field isn’t exactly what he wants it to be in a wide receiver room led by Deebo Samuel, he set the tone early for the 49ers by scoring the regular season’s first touchdown on the road at Detroit. Mom and a host of family members were there to witness it.

“To be in the building to watch that happen was terrific,” said Gouard. “Just to see it come all together right there in that very moment at the first game. It was... it was perfect.”

Perfect and just about a five-hour drive from where Sherfield grew up in Illinois. A place that has always remained special and important to him.

“We’re a really small town. He’s aware that the kids here actually truly look up to him,” Gouard described the town with a population of about 33,000. “He knows that without home, there would be no him.”

Sherfield’s put his money where his mouth is, too, hosting a free football camp in 2019 at his alma mater. That camp was put on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, but Sherfield hopes for it to return in 2022. That’s far from the only thing Sherfield has done to give back. This Christmas, the four-year wideout returned to Danville to host a holiday toy giveaway.

“We rented out the skating rink and did a first-come-first-serve and gave out toys,” said Gouard. “We were at capacity within 20 minutes.”

Mom has helped lead the way with his charitable efforts, acting as boots-on-the-ground until Sherfield can make it back for the events during his downtime. A duty that has her beaming with pride.

“Above everything else, that makes me the most proud. The fact that he’s so willing to help other people.” added Gouard. “He just wants to put a smile on people’s faces. And that, by far, is what I’m most proud of. The fact that he’s able to be in the position that he’s in and still be willing to be humble and want to give back.”

While he isn’t Danville's only active NFL player, he is a hometown hero. And like any true hero, he takes challenges each and every challenge head-on.