September 4, 2012 – Imagine leading the NCAA in goals per game. There are over 6,000 division 1 men’s soccer players and only one player can average the most goals per game. This man’s name is Mark Sherrod. Sherrod, a redshirt junior from Memphis University is quite a story. Playing in Conference USA, the 6’3” forward may not receive the national recognition he deserves, but he’s back and ready to prove to the country what he and the Memphis Tigers are really made of.
Sherrod claims Memphis’ missing of the NCAA tournament was “devastating…to be that close and miss it by one or two games is heart breaking.”
When asked what Memphis’ goals were for this year, Sherrod reiterated, “Be top 48, Be top 48.” They want to be known as one of the country’s elite. Sherrod was also discussing the upcoming Tigers season, “We have the potential to have a fantastic season. There is a good mixture of returning seniors and freshmen getting playing time.”
Memphis personally has the quality to reach their goals. Individually they have talent such as Sherrod and Liam Collins, both pre season Hermann Trophy watch list candidates. Sherrod is the first to credit Liam Collins and the rest of his teammates for his success. “Everyone hits the balls in the middle and I just finish the crosses.”
Sherrod is an extraordinary talent with a never say never mentality. Mark talks about “working hard every day. I stay after practice working on shooting.” He doesn’t take anything for granted and “is honored for his opportunities. Nothing is going to be handed to me.”
Mark knows exactly what type of player he is and what he has to do for the team to win games. “I’m not a flashy-guy and I’m decent in the air. I’m a big guy and have to use my size to score. I find the ball and work in the middle and try to be at the right place at the right time.” That is the essence of the target striker’s game. He’s a natural poacher. If you look back at all of Mark’s goals, none of them are going to stand out as incredible acrobatic shots, but he knows how to hit the ball in the back of the net.
Much of Mark’s success also has to do with coach Richie Grant. Grant entering his 14th year is now the most winning coach at Memphis. Sherrod credits Grant for “always being respectful to his players and really caring.” Having a coach that treats his players well really does make a difference in the team’s environment.
Being surrounded by a facility like Mike Rose Soccer Complex helps as well. Mark claims the fields on the Memphis campus are “awesome. They are always in tip-top conditions. They’re perfect.” Mark hopes that one day the stadium will be full, but he talked about how the players truly appreciate the fan support. “It’s great to see the crowd packed for the games. For our opener, there were at least 1,000 fans and it really motivates you.”
Mark was very complimentary of Conference USA and grouped them as one of the country’s finest. With that said, he’s very eager for the transition to the Big East next year. “Every year there are teams from the Big East that make the tourney. We get the honor of merging with some amazing teams. They are the strongest in the country and I think it will help the university in terms of recruiting and stuff like that.”
On a personal note, Sherrod is probably the most humble athlete I’ve ever spoken to. He was never crediting himself and when I asked about his future such as the MLS, Sherrod said, “for now I’m just concentrating on Memphis.” He’s not egocentric like many high-profile athletes are. I tried talking to him about his personal accomplishments like being named CUSA player of the year and being named a third-team All American as a sophomore. “I’m very honored. I’ve never won anything like that before, but most of this is really my teammates. They set me up for assists and the defense kept many shutouts which allowed us to win.” I even had a member of the Memphis staff confirm Mark’s humility. “What you hear from Mark is genuine, all of the guys on this team are the same way. It makes my job much easier.”
Whether Mark believes so or not, he is a top MLS prospect. He’s only entering his junior year and has two more years to impress. Last year Mark was named CUSA player of the year over three seniors who all ended up being drafted into the MLS. Mark Sherrod is a name to remember. The Hermann Trophy semi-finalist is likely to replicate last year’s numbers and be competing not only for the player of the year award, but his college goal, an NCAA tournament bid. It’s hard not to root for a guy like Mark. He’s an honest, hard working kid. He’s already opened up the campaign with a goal in an electrifying but disappointing 4-3 defeat to Wisconsin.
Mark will get a chance in the national spotlight as Memphis hosts NCAA conference foes SMU on Fox Soccer Channel November 2nd. Until then, Memphis faces another rigorous schedule including games verses South Carolina, UCF, and UAB. If Memphis can get positive results out of these games, expect the Tigers to be roaring into the Tournament come December.
As far as collegiate athletes go, Sherrod has quite a resume. He has the capability to have three consecutive scoring campaigns that could go unmatched for some time. At the end of the interview, when asked if he had anything else to add, Mark said, “I’d like to thank my teammates and coaching staff.” I wouldn’t expect anything less from a class act like this.
Ben Roth is a contributing writer to College Soccer News. He can be reached at Ben.firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter @Benrothpda16