By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Last Saturday against Western Kentucky, the scoreboard read 21-17 in Vanderbilt’s favor when receiver Trent Sherfield took a handoff from quarterback Kyle Shurmur. The senior Sherfield clutched the rock and curled up the right sideline at Vanderbilt Stadium, breaking a tackle near the 30-yard line. He then found a seam and streaked into the end zone, giving Vanderbilt a 28-17 lead with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
The 45-yard run was the longest of Sherfield’s career. Usually a steady pass-catcher, the senior looked the part of a seasoned running back on that play against Western Kentucky.
“We practiced that all week, and it was open all week,” Sherfield said, “so knew I had a chance to get a touchdown on it.”
Sherfield was a game-changer on offense against the Hilltoppers. He finished with a team-leading 82 receiving yards and added his 45-yard scoring run for good measure. Those 127 yards of total offense – as well as two touchdowns – helped the Commodores win, 31-17, at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The Dores’ victory snapped a five-game losing streak in front of a home crowd. Head coach Derek Mason said his team has turned a corner as it kicks off a three-game stretch of SEC foes, which begins with Kentucky this Saturday (3 p.m. CT on SEC Network).
“I think this football team is starting to move the needle a little bit,” Mason said.
Sherfield entered his senior season yearning to become a big-play threat for Vanderbilt’s offense. Through nine games, the Danville, Ill. native has already surpassed his 2016 numbers in reception yards (540), yards per catch (16.9) and touchdown catches (three). Sherfield also has 32 catches with three games to play in the regular season after hauling in 34 all of last year.
QUICK HITS: Derek Mason, Commodores preview Kentucky
Sherfield’s evolution to SEC receiver has been a quick process. He signed with Vanderbilt in 2014 as a dual defensive back/quarterback from Danville High. But Mason and his staff opted to shift Sherfield to receiver, a position the prospect had never played. That added an extra learning curve to Sherfield’s already daunting task of adjusting to the SEC.
Four seasons later, Vanderbilt wide receivers coach Cortez Hankton said Sherfield has developed into a natural at his position.
“The thing that Trent possesses is the mindset of just wanting to be great all the time -- not just play-to-play but in clutch situations,” Hankton said. “From when I first got here to now, that young man is light-years away from where he was. He wants to be that guy, and he doesn’t shy away from it.”
That mindset often adds an element to Vanderbilt’s offense. Against Western Kentucky, four of Sherfield’s five catches came on third down -- and secured first downs. The fifth catch was a four-yard touchdown reception on Vanderbilt’s first possession.
Keeping the offense on the field is a constant goal for Sherfield.
“I take that very personally,” Sherfield said. “Coach Hank always preaches that to the wide receiver group to make sure we’re above a certain number when the game is over, above 45 percent on conversions.”
The Commodores can use Sherfield’s playmaking against Kentucky on Saturday. Along with quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who has already thrown 20 touchdown passes, Sherfield and the Dores must win three of their next four games to secure bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season.
To achieve that goal, Sherfield knows exactly what he must do.
“It’s just being that guy to help this offense keep those chains moving and stay on the field,” he said.
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.