By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE - A degree from Vanderbilt represents the culmination of a long journey for Trent Sherfield.
"It's about the work that you put in," Sherfield said. "I've learned that much at Vanderbilt."
Sherfield, a graduating wide receiver for Vanderbilt football, views his upcoming walk across the commencement stage from a personal perspective. Sherfield persevered through a difficult upbringing in Danville, Ill., two hours outside Chicago. Family life and a tough neighborhood presented their share of obstacles. In all, a college degree seemed like a far-fetched goal for Sherfield.
But on Friday, Sherfield will earn his degree from Vanderbilt in medicine, health and society, with a minor in corporate strategies. He will don a cap and gown on the heels of a stellar career as an SEC student-athlete. Sherfield now knows a college degree is something no one can take from him.
"It's going to be a huge accomplishment," Sherfield said. "And it's being able to show kids back home that I'm from the same city. I grew up on the same street. In reality, there's nothing you can't do. You have to work for what you want, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
Sherfield's spent his early years as the son of a single mother, Tedrone. His mother later married his eventual stepfather, the late Tomas Reed Sr., who served as a mentor but bounced in and out of jail during Trent's youth. The Sherfields moved around a lot, often in uncomfortable circumstances; at one point Sherfield lived in a three-bedroom apartment with six other family members.
When Sherfield reached high school, his mother delivered a sobering reality: she couldn't pay for him to attend college. Sherfield had witnessed friends and classmates get lost in bad habits. He made it his goal to earn a scholarship to play college football.
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"Where I'm from, it's not easy to leave," Sherfield said. "People fall by the wayside by doing the same things they were doing in high school. It's a place where people can get stuck. I told myself, that's not going to be me."
Sherfield focused his efforts on football and the classroom. At Danville High, Sherfield excelled as a two-way star for the Vikings. He compiled 4,790 yards and 64 total touchdowns on offense during his final two seasons as a quarterback, adding 146 tackles and six interceptions as a three-year starter at defensive back. When college programs began to take notice, a scholarship from Vanderbilt was too good to pass up for Sherfield.
When Sherfield arrived on West End, head coach Derek Mason's coaching staff shifted him to receiver, a position he had never played. But the newcomer worked his way into a key cog in the Commodore offense. As a senior last season, Sherfield finished as the team-leader with a career-high 729 receiving yards, chipping in five touchdown grabs. In 2015, Sherfield set a school record with 240 receiving yards on 16 catches in a win over Austin Peay.
Mason said few Commodores could compete with Sherfield's work ethic.
"Trent Sherfield has been a tireless worker on the field and in the classroom during his time at Vanderbilt," Mason said. "He trusted our coaching staff and turned into a dependable, talented receiver for this program. Now, Trent's work is paying off as he lives his dream of forging an NFL career. I look forward to watching him continue his rise beyond Vanderbilt."
On Friday, Sherfield will cross the graduation stage with 136 career receptions, 1,869 yards and nine touchdown catches to his name. He ranks eighth all-time among Commodores in both receptions and receiving yards. But more importantly to Sherfield, he has helped solidify the foundation of Vanderbilt football.
"Being able to take what we've done and pay it forward, pass it on to the young guys, that's important to me," Sherfield said.
Next up for Sherfield? The NFL. Last week, Sherfield signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent, hoping to secure a permanent spot with the franchise in 2018.
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Sherfield also hopes his career allows him to give back to Danville. At Vanderbilt, he served as a mentor at a local Boys & Girls Club and interned at the Martha O'Bryan Center in Nashville. Back home, Sherfield would like to one day build an indoor athletic facility for youth in Danville. "Coming up, I didn't have a lot of resources," he said. "I had to travel two hours to Chicago almost every weekend."
In all, Sherfield's next chapter remains unwritten. But as he harkens back to his childhood, he remains thankful for each opportunity along the way.
"You have to work for what you want, but I wouldn't have it any other way," Sherfield said. "You can't take something from somebody if they've worked for it. That's what I love about my experience at Vanderbilt."
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.