Relegated to the practice roster after his first pre-season, J.C. Sherritt looked like he might become an afterthought with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Two seasons and 202 bone-crunching tackles later, Sherritt is not only the cornerstone of the Eskimos' defence, he's the top defensive player in the CFL.
The Eskimos rewarded Sherritt for his stellar play Wednesday, signing the five-foot-nine, 218 pound linebacker to a contract extension through the 2015 season.
"Last year was obviously a season of highs and lows, and one of the highs was definitely the play of J.C. Sherritt," Eskimos general manager Ed Hervey said.
Sherritt was the overwhelming choice for the CFL's outstanding defensive player award, earning 49 of the 57 votes cast by CFL coaches and members of the Football Reporters of Canada.
His stats backed up the praise. He made a record-setting 130 defensive tackles in 2012. He also recorded three sacks, three special teams tackles, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two knockdowns and five interceptions for 56 yards. A nagging ankle injury kept him out of the CFL East semifinal with Toronto, which the Argonauts won 42-26.
"He is an extremely talented player who has character beyond reproach," Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed said in a statement. "He is a core player who will help us in our championship quest."
That's big praise for someone who wasn't even expected to make the team. Sherritt initially signed with Edmonton on April 20, 2011, as a free agent, but Hervey said even the process of getting him into camp was an "uphill battle."
"When he got here there were people that were skeptical of his ability," Hervey said. "It wasn't until coach Reed had a practice session where he went live and J.C. ended up showing how physical he was, nearly knocking out one of the running backs on a goal-line drill.
"I think at that point everyone said 'He's going to make it at least until the first pre-season game,' and the rest is history."
That history included being cut after the 2011 pre-season and placed on the practice roster. But with the Eskimos dealing with injuries on defence, Sherritt got into the lineup for Edmonton's 2011 season opener against Saskatchewan. He emphatically took advantage of the opportunity, making 11 tackles in the Eskimos' 42-28 win over the Roughriders.
The Eastern Washington product ended the 2011 season 74 defensive tackles, three quarterback sacks and was named the West Division rookie of the year.
"J.C. took full advantage of every opportunity to every opportunity given to him, and because of those last two seasons he was obviously rewarded for his services."
Securing Sherritt to a contract was a priority for the Eskimos, who have also extended the contracts of kicker Grant Shaw, linebacker T.J. Hill and offensive lineman Brian Ramsay over the last couple of weeks.
"These signings keep the nucleus of this football team intact," Reed said. "We are extremely proud to have them be a part of this team because of their talent and character."