Hyack heading to Arizona
In early 2012, Farhan Lalji knocked on the door of a Sapperton home with a map, of sorts, in hand.
The New Westminster Hyacks head football coach wasn't looking for directions. He was looking to provide them to a big boy still in Grade 9, Harper Sherman, and his parents, Diane and Tony.
Lalji had mapped out where Sherman should go and what he should do for the next couple of years. In Lalji's opinion, if Sherman followed the directions there was a good chance he would end up at a large American university with a scholarship as an offensive lineman .
"There's not many that can move like he can for a man that big," was Lalji's assessment.
So Sherman went everywhere Lalji suggested. He went to football camps. He went to games. He went to the weight room. He went to practices. And to extra practices. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.
The road he took landed him in Tucson, Ariz., last Friday. It wasn't just another stop along the way. After arriving he accepted a scholarship to play for the University of Arizona Wildcats. His travels led the six-foot-four, 260-pounder to many other schools in the powerful Pacific Athletic Conference (Pac-12), but they were pit stops. Starting in the fall of 2015 he will become the first Hyack to join a Pac-12 school in the 12 years since Lalji revived the football program at NWSS.
"We had a plan in place," said Lalji. "Everything happened the way we thought it would."
It wasn't a route Sherman considered going down growing up playing baseball and soccer. But those sports weren't panning out because he was too big. A teacher at Glenbrook middle school, the wife of Hyack youth football coordinator Ryan Leslie, suggested he try football.
"It was pretty funny, actually," said Sherman, 17. "We went out to the first practice to watch and my mom thought it looked too violent."
But he played anyway. His parents wanted him to play sports because it helps keep kids out of trouble. They had no idea where it would lead.
"When I first started football it wasn't a big dream of mine [to play at university]," said Sherman. "I just wanted a sport to play … It's grown on me and I love it now."
But when Lalji told him where it could take him, Sherman started paying attention.
New Westminster Hyacks head coach Farhan Lalji. NewsLeader file photo
"I was definitely determined to get the scholarship," said Sherman. "Honestly, yeah it was [overwhelming] at some points. I was practising more than everybody else, and working out more than anybody else. You have to really not lose focus on why you're doing it in the first place."
He got excited when he started getting letters from a bunch of schools, but then he realized they were mostly mass mailings to prospects all over the continent. It's when they became personalized that he knew a scholarship was possible.
"It's pretty cool that they're putting in all this time and energy to recruiting you," said Sherman. "Making a decision was actually time consuming. It took a while to actually to make a decision and put in all the research."
Sherman came close to choosing University of California-Berkley or Oregon State University. He also looked at Washington State, Nevada and San Diego State. But Arizona stood out above them all. He was impressed with nationally-known head coach Rich Rodriguez. But he was particularly impressed with offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, a Port Angeles, Wash., native who has been coaching NCAA since 1990 except for a two-year stint with the NFL's Oakland Raiders.
"He creates a connection with you, you just get to know him and feel comfortable around him," said Sherman.
Hyacks who have previously received NCAA scholarships
- Tyler Digby (tight end), Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh
- Nasser Jamal (offensive lineman), University of Louisiana-Lafayette
- Marc Moore (wide receiver), Saginaw Valley State (Michigan)
Sherman and his mother made one last trip to check out U of A last week just as the team's training camp was starting Friday. The trip solidified his choice. So he committed to the Wildcats and liked being able to do it in person.
It's been a surreal journey for the whole family. Three years ago they had no idea what was in store for Harper. And while he impressed Pac-12 coaches, he also impressed his parents.
"It's all been him. It's a testament to his drive to do it. We don't know where all this is going to lead, but for us it is the education. That's our goal," said father Tony.
Sherman's commitment is a milestone for the Hyacks.
"It's a big deal. He's our fourth Division I player, so it's not new from that perspective," said Lalji. "[But] certainly he's our biggest prospect going to the biggest school yet."
It's difficult to predict where this all ends up for the teenager, but it could be just the beginning.
"I'm not going to project NFL and CFL, I don't think that's fair. He's got a chance to get extended playing years," said Lalji.
Sherman's senior season with the Hyacks is close at hand. And it begins in style. The Hyacks will head to Grandview, Texas, just outside of Dallas, for an exhibition game against that city's high school team, the Zebras, on Aug. 29.
Yet another stop on the map of Harper Sherman's football future.