How New York Jets linebacker Jamien Sherwood forced his high school defensive coordinator, Chris Kokell, to alter his retirement plans.
Chris Kokell’s path to the defensive coordinator job at Jensen Beach High School was a windy one.
Kokell, currently of ESPN Radio 106.3 FM in West Palm Beach, FL, planned to retire from coaching after having a child just before the start of the 2016 season. That was until he received a call during SEC Media Day from Jensen Beach High School head coach Tim Caffey.
Caffey told him he was looking to hire a defensive coordinator. Critically, the head coach also mentioned a talented safety Kokell could use as a matchup player.
Kokell had been familiar with the Jensen Beach program as a coach in the area. Unable to ignore his intrigue, he decided to re-watch some of Jensen Beach’s defensive tape.
“Within minutes of watching Jamien’s film, I was on the phone with my wife telling her I was going to be coaching again,” Kokell told Jets X-Factor. “[I] wasn’t passing up a chance to work with someone that special.”
Perhaps most intriguing is the way Kokell’s enthusiasm for Sherwood’s qualities as a man is can’t miss. In addition to his athletic feats on the field, Sherwood’s personality has rubbed off on so many he’s come in contact with, including Kokell.
“He is hanging up on a poster in both my son’s room and football is only a small reason why,” Kokell said. “Just don’t be fooled by the hard hits and trash-talking on the field. He is a big momma’s boy who cares so deeply about his family and his teammates. Cliche but true, great player but an even better person.”
Kokell continued by raving about the Auburn product’s work ethic.
“Jamien made me want to become a better coach. As his position coach, and the DC, I didn’t want to let him down. His work ethic was already incredible. Workouts with coach Roscoe (strength and conditioning coach) in the morning and the team after school. Coach Caffey and coach Gilly’s (assistant head coach Aaron Gilbert) summer workouts were brutal and Jamien never batted an eye. I just wanted to do my part to help him get better in any small way.”
Sherwood’s intelligence is evident—as noted in a previous film article—but Kokell witnessed those smarts firsthand and was routinely awed by Sherwood in defensive meetings.
“By midweek, he could call out the scout team’s plays as they aligned. By Friday night, he could call the defense based on the other team’s personnel, alignment and motions.”
Kokell was asked about Sherwood’s strengths and weaknesses as a high school player, and also how he deployed Sherwood in his defense to highlight those strengths or hide those weaknesses.
In Kokell’s eyes, Sherwood had few if any weaknesses to his game.
“If anything, he was so good he never had to play within a scheme. He could just make plays. Once he learned he only had to focus on his job, he was even better.”
Kokell viewed Sherwood as his equalizer.
“I used him to match up with whatever the team did best. Whether it was covering a top WR with no safety help, playing in the box to stop the run, spying the QB as a LB, or rushing off the edge as a DE, I could count on Jamien to get the job done”.
After finishing the year with 69 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 4 punt return touchdowns, Sherwood had established himself as one of the best players in the state. He ranked No. 1 on the Super 11, a prestigious list of the Jacksonville area’s best-rising seniors, with former members including Derrick Henry, Tim Tebow, and Brian Dawkins.
Before his junior season, his first under Kokell, Sherwood only had three offers from major college programs. By the time Sherwood committed to Auburn on July 25, 2017, he would have over twenty.
Kokell and Sherwood are still in contact with each other, connecting every couple of weeks. According to Kokell, Sherwood is “so happy to be a New York Jet.”
As a lifelong Jets fan himself, Kokell believes Sherwood will become a star in New York.
“After seeing what coach Saleh did with the San Francisco 49ers, he will love Jamien Sherwood. [He’s] a versatile player that loves to hit and only wants to win. He thrives on big stages and Jets fans love scrappy hard-hitting players.”
Kokell finished our chat with a description of Sherwood that should have Jets fans ready to run through a wall with excitement.
“They are getting a Victor Green hitter with Jamal Adams swagger, a Wayne Chrebet chip on his shoulder [-type guy who’s] willing to play every special team like Larry Izzo. Gang Green will love him.”
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