Steve Addazio has spent most of August sounding like a college football defense contractor. The Boston College head coach is excited about his young team—the Eagles beat UMass 30-7 yesterday in the season opener—but he’s desperate for more explosives, more weapons. He’s said the word “explosives” no fewer than 50 times leading up to the season, and every time he enunciates the second syllable it sounds like a missile has been fired into the end zone.
Addazio wasn’t looking for explosives last year—he was looking for playmakers. All he needed was a few guys to score touchdowns or force turnovers and he’d be content—no matter how they did it. Early on, the Eagles found Andre Williams and rode him to 2,000 rushing yards and seven wins by running the ball down opponents’ throats.
They had a lot of this:
But they didn’t have a lot of this:
That’s freshman BC receiver Sherman Alston—affectionately known as “Sherm” to his teammates—running circles around Wayne Hills on the self-described best play of his career, so far. It’s the first play on his high school highlight tape. When asked for his ultimate play, Alston leaned back in his chair and smiled brightly. His eyes floated up to the ceiling and then started slowly moving left and right, briefly leaving the room to see all the jukes and stutters that have left bigger and stronger defenders in the dust.
As you can see in the clip, Alston is small. He’s generously listed as 5-foot-6, 163 pounds on the BC website, which is a stretch even in cleats and pads. He grew up as a basketball player from Harlem, but eventually made the transition to New Jersey football. When he was deciding where to go to high school, the choice came down to Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco, and St. Joseph’s. Alston didn’t feel like he was going to be good at football, so he chose St. Joe’s, the smallest of the three schools and the location of his Pop Warner practices.
But he was good—really good. He left basketball behind after his freshman year when he started getting a lot of playing time for the Green Knights. They were No. 1 in the state his junior and senior years and won three state titles during his tenure, powered by his 2,656 career rushing yards. Alston was mainly a running back, but he’d also line up at corner if St. Joe’s needed to lock down the other team’s best receiver. The small speedster would shadow and pester the wideout on key plays. He even came up with an interception in the state championship game against Pope John.
Despite the high school success, Alston was extremely overlooked in recruiting. The only other schools to seriously consider him besides BC were Albany, Bryant, Delaware, and New Hampshire. It’s something he takes personally, especially the disrespect from nearby Rutgers.
“I knew I could play Division I football,” Alston said. “For schools to overlook me, I really took that to heart. I just wanted to prove everybody wrong, show them that I am a good Division I football player.”
Before the start of his senior year, Alston came to a camp at BC and performed well. Offensive coordinator Ryan Day led his recruitment and Alston committed three weeks later as a wide receiver. Day told Alston that they wanted to split him out wide running bubbles, reverses, and sweeps, while also using him in the return game. That, as well as the opportunity to get a BC degree in communication, was all he needed to hear. Alston, a fan of hip-hop and R&B, has dreams of being a music producer some day, and his cousin, an entertainment lawyer, told him to study business or communication.
“If I don’t make it to the NFL that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I want to be a music producer.”
Alston took his official visit during the Army game last season, when Williams came within one yard of the single-game BC rushing record. Williams bashed and bruised Army, but the Eagles didn’t have that explosive speed anywhere on the field. The coaching staff told him that’s what the Eagles were missing and that’s why they wanted him. Running back Myles Willis was his host that weekend, and also told him that if he came in focused and performed well during camp he’d be able to play right away.
But Alston wasn’t so sure when he got to Chestnut Hill, at least not right away.
“When I first got here I thought I would never learn the plays,” he said, laughing.
They’re longer in college, and a little more complicated. On top of that, he was playing a new position and he felt like he didn’t have time to breathe given the lack of down time.
Eventually, though, things started to get easier. Four days before the UMass game, he sounded nothing but relaxed and confident. Quarterback Tyler Murphy helped him out with the plays, taking Alston out to the field and running through routes and sets where he thought BC would use one of its newest weapons.
And the position change is actually working out in his favor. He’s still getting used to having to sprint in motion or catch the ball to be able to make a play, but once he gets open he has an advantage over other small receivers. Even against aggressive linebackers like Steven Daniels and Josh Keyes, Alston’s running back history makes him refuse to shy away from contact.
“This is really my first time playing wide receiver,” he said, “so I’m used to just fighting for those extra yards.”
Alston’s best trait is his ability to stop on a dime and then, in a split second, accelerate right back to his top speed. He spent two years working with Explosive Training Systems in New Jersey to help build that athleticism.
He got his speed from ETS, but he got his moves from YouTube. Alston sticks to two highlight tapes—Barry Sanders and Tavon Austin—and does his best to mimic their moves. When he’s told that Sanders is a little big for his game, Alston just silently shakes his head. He’s heard the doubters for years, and now BC’s given him the chance to prove them wrong on the ACC level.
Alston thinks about his first collegiate touchdown every day. He hoped it would happen the first time he touched the ball, but that didn’t work out. It was a short gain off a catch in the flat at the end of the first quarter, which he made the most out of by bursting head first into two UMass defenders. He did break this nice jet sweep, though, sending a defender flying out of bounds at the end of the run, but the play was called dead after Alston stepped out of bounds:
Day and Addazio will let Alston loose as the season goes along. They don’t have a choice. When you have a weapon like that, you have to fire.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor