Sterling Sheffield found himself when he signed with the University of Maine in Feb. 2015. The then 2-star high school prospect out of New Jersey fit the Maine narrative … he was tough as hell, ready to hit, blue-collar to the hilt, and he was not going to be a distracted.
He fit the narrative of the Maine defense and he fit the persona of its nickname: The Black Hole — Where opposing offenses get swallowed up. It was one of the FCS' top programs and defenses last fall.[divider]
PROSPECTS BY FCS CONFERENCE: The list[divider]
By getting away from home and being able to focus up in Orono, Maine, Sheffield found himself, indeed.
He was thrust into one of the toughest FCS conferences, the CAA, and he handled it well enough to be considered a potential day three NFL Draft pickup, and easily a lock to be a priority free agent as an outside linebacker should the late rounds not have his name called. One way or another he'll be in an NFL minicamp in May, it's just a matter of how and where.
"To be honest, I've been trying to not think too much about all of this because if you do it'll drive you crazy," Sheffield told HERO Sports this week. "It's basically an eight-month interview that began with CAA media day last summer all the way to now. It's been a job interview, the whole thing, and it's a blessing to be in the middle of it."
Being in Orono has been a blessing, also, when it comes to focus.
"Unless you have an altercation with a moose, it's hard to get in trouble or be distracted up there," Sheffield quipped, prompting his interviewer to lose his beverage all over the computer screen. "It allows you to focus on school and football."
Sheffield has been in touch with several teams and has been on a visit to meet with the Cincinnati Bengals. In all, he reports he has talked to 25 teams and on the day of this interview, he'd already talked to three teams that morning.
The HERO Sports second-team FCS All-American has been listed as highly as a sixth-round draft pick. When it came to his Pro Day, his 3-cone time would have been Top 5 at the NFL Combine for "EDGE" prospects (OLB/DEs) and his broad jump mark would have been Top 10. But it is his instinctive style of play, his tenacity, that turns heads more than the meat market stuff without pads on.
He's a baller and downright mean on the field.
Maine has seen its share of talent. After Sheffield's freshman season, fellow LB Trevor Bates was drafted, and the next year defensive end Pat Ricard ended up being a high-end free agent pickup with the Ravens who went on to actually catch two rookie touchdowns as a fullback when he wasn't on defense. And last year at this time? Offensive lineman Jamil Demby was drafted by the L.A. Rams and was on the Super Bowl roster earlier this year.
Bottom line? It may not be as easy to turn heads at Maine or the FCS level, but you can — and Sheffield feels he's next.
"Teams say I'm a great player, that I'm a smart football player," Sheffield said. "They can tell I know what's going on while on the field. I also have long arms and that helps, as well as my explosion. Some teams don't know much about Maine, but if you're able to come up to Maine, it's basically a hard knocks program. You have a chip on your shoulder, everybody has had that chip on their shoulder. And we're hungry to prove we've been overlooked."
"My whole life I've been the underdog, and I like being the underdog."
By the end of this weekend, we'll know which NFL team decided to sign this underdog Black Bear from Maine/New Jersey.[divider]
STERLING SHEFFIELD'S DRAFT PROJECTIONS
|DraftScout.com||7th to HPFA|