The town of North Attleboro, Mass., borders Foxboro. Its town hall sits less than 10 miles from Gillette Stadium, a straight shot down Route 1. Deep in the heart of New England Patriots country.
But for a few hours this Sunday night, a large swath of its roughly 30,000 residents will be rooting hard for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Or, more specifically, they’ll be pulling for one particular Chief: fullback Anthony Sherman.
Before Sherman, now a nine-year NFL veteran, established himself as one of the league’s premier players at his position, he was a two-way superstar at North Attleboro High School, wreaking havoc as a ball-carrier, pass-catcher and heat-seeking middle linebacker.
“He was fantastic,” Sherman’s high school coach, Kurt Kummer, told NESN.com as the Chiefs prepared to take on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. “He was everything you want in a football player. … I wouldn’t say he was just a runner or a catcher or things like that — he just could play the game of football in every facet.”
Sherman played fullback in those days, too. But in the Red Rocketeers’ old-school Wing-T offense, he was the main attraction. A three-year varsity starter, he set school records for rushing yards (2,537) and touchdowns (48) while also leading the team in receiving as a junior and senior.
Coaches around the Hockomock League were baffled. How do you stop a sub-6-foot, 225-pound cannonball with literal sprinter’s speed — his 4×200 relay team placed fifth in the state in winter 2007 — who was borderline impossible to tackle 1-on-1?
“Every play they ran where he didn’t carry the ball, I kind of took a deep breath and relaxed,” said Mike Redding, head coach at rival Mansfield High. “Because he dragged guys around. It would take two, three guys to get him down, and he was a lot faster than he looked. He wasn’t the tallest guy, but he was strong, and you didn’t realize just how much speed he had when he got into the open field.”
“You knew that you had to tackle him low, but he had huge legs,” King Philip Regional coach Brian Lee said. “Everyone was talking about how big his legs were — like, where do you tackle him? Do you try to tackle those tree trunks? If you take him up top, he’s just going to run you over. So it was kind of like, get on an ankle, hold on and wait for your buddies to help, because you weren’t taking him down alone, that’s for sure.”
And, according to multiple coaches who spoke with NESN.com for this story, Sherman was even better defensively.
“Obviously, he was the main (focus) for everybody,” Foxboro High coach Jack Martinelli said. “He was really a man amongst boys as a high school football player. … And I’m going to say we feared him more as a defensive player than we did offensively, even though he was a kid that couldn’t be brought down by one defender. But defensively, he was a gigantic force for North Attleboro, as well.”
Added Redding: “He was just so physical and so fast that you really had to scheme every blocking scheme to somehow get either your best blocker on him or get two blockers on him, just to kind of keep him away from the back. And then God forbid if they blitzed him. … They had a good D-line, and he just ran around and made plays all over the football field.”
Redding’s strategy one season involved using Mansfield’s most physically imposing player — 6-foot-5, 255-pound Corey Eason, who went on to play defensive end at Boston College — to block Sherman. But even he was no match for the North phenom.
“We put (Eason) at tight end and tried to somehow get him into the Mike ‘backer, because we felt at least physically, he could hold his own if he could get in there and block him,” Redding explained. “But most of the time he’d get in there to block him, Sherman was running by him. You put a bigger, stronger guy in there to block him, and he can’t get his hands on him. And then you put a quicker kid on him, and he’s just running him over.”
Kummer had one particularly fond memory of the Sherman-Eason matchup.
“(Eason) was good,” the North Attleboro coach said. “He was big, and he was physical. I remember they ran a tight end screen in front of their bench early on, and Anthony came and just laid the biggest hit I think I’ve seen in high school football on anybody. Completely changed the momentum of the game to our favor.”
That bone-rattling hit came during a 2005 game that Kummer and Redding both called the best of Sherman’s high school career.
“When we played them his junior year, we had turf, and we had our old grass field,” Redding recalled. “And we had a snowstorm in October. They had all kinds of speed — they had (Sherman), a receiver who was going to UMass, another good running back that was going somewhere — so we come with the bright idea of, ‘Let’s go up to the park and play them in the snow. Play in the mud and slow all these guys down.’ And at that point, we had a 31-game win streak. So we go up to the park thinking, OK, it’s going to be a mudfest, low-scoring game, maybe we can beat them. And by the end of the first quarter, I think it was 21-0 (North Attleboro).”
That surge was all Sherman, who scored a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a passing touchdown in rapid succession and also set up one of those scores with a strip-sack.
“I remember a play where we had a safety covering him out of the backfield, and he ran an out-and-up and ran by our safety — who was one of our fastest kids — and scored a touchdown,” Redding said. “(That’s) something you just never see a fullback do in high school, and here was a kid 6-1, 225, running by one of our best defensive backs and catching an over-the-shoulder pass for a touchdown.”
North Attleboro went on to win 26-0, handing Mansfield its first loss in three years.
“I’ve never seen a kid have a better day — in the mud and snow — than Anthony did that day,” Kummer said.
Similar performances were commonplace during Sherman’s high school years. Lee, who arrived at King Philip ahead of Sherman’s junior season, couldn’t think of a more dominant opponent he’s faced in his coaching career.
“Just think about how long he’s been playing pro ball now,” Lee said. “If you’re lucky enough to make it to the pros, the average (career) for a back is two or three years. He’s still playing — Jesus. It’s just crazy. And as a fullback. But he was a supreme talent.”
In Martinelli’s eyes, the only local high school talent who compared was Tom Nalen, a Foxboro alum who went on to play 14 seasons at center for the Denver Broncos. Redding was unequivocal in his praise.
“I’ve been (coaching for) 32 years at Mansfield,” he said, “and if I had to rank opposing players — top people we played against — he would be No. 1 on the list. He was as dominant a player on both sides of the ball that I’ve ever coached against in my 32 years at Mansfield, and that includes a lot of good players.”
After earning Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2006, Sherman played four seasons at UConn. The Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the fifth round in 2011, then traded him to Kansas City two years later.
The 31-year-old, who’s now listed at 5-10, 242 pounds, has appeared in every game over his seven seasons with the Chiefs — 121 straight, including playoffs — displaying occasional potency as a pass-catcher (52 catches, 436 yards, three touchdowns since joining KC) while consistently serving as one of the team’s core special teamers.
In 2018, Sherman earned his first Pro Bowl selection, beating out New England’s James Develin. Now, he’s seeking his first championship.
“We think the world of Andy Reid and Anthony and his teammates and the whole Kansas City organization,” said Kummer, who no longer coaches but remains at North Attleboro as the school’s athletic director. “Outside of the Patriots — if the Patriots aren’t going to be there, everybody in North Attleboro wants Anthony to win.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images