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  1. Sports

No change is a change of pace for Hillsborough LB Robert Sherman III

TAMPA — He had always loved contact, so when Robert Sherman III lined up across from Azeez Al-Shaair for a tackling drill in August 2014, he thought, "Man, I'm feeling to rock him."

Al-Shaair was a 6-foot-2, 220-pound hulk linebacker, who was named all-state as a junior and now plays at Florida Atlantic. Sherman was a 145-pound freshman who had just picked up football.

The drill was a three-cone one. Sherman had the ball. Al-Shaair had his target. Sherman cut left and Al-Shaair made a beeline for his chest.

"He hit me with so much force my soul questioned whether I wanted to play football or not," Sherman said. "My inner soul was like, 'You don't wanna do this. Go play video games. This ain't for you.' "

A lot has changed for Sherman, 17, since that day at Hillsborough High School. Two years later, he's a junior and the starting outside linebacker for the Terriers. But for his entire life, he has dealt with change: moving houses multiple times as a kid; changing schools in third grade, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth grades; living with his grandmother, then his mom, then back with his grandmother, and now his uncle.

"It didn't really bother me as I was growing up. Like around 10, I guess I just grew out of it. If we're going to move, we're going to move," Sherman said.

He developed a bond with his grandmother, as most grandchildren do, through their trips to skate parks and basketball games together.

Sherman had always liked being indoors, so football became a way to exercise. Now he wants it to be his future in college and beyond. He would like to use it as a way to repay his grandmother, Jasmine Roberson.

"I'm going to buy you a house," he often says to her.

"I'm so proud of him," Roberson said. "I tell him, 'I want you to go play ball because you want to do it. I want you to go to college because you do.' "

Hillsborough defensive coordinator Earl Garcia III describes Sherman as very instinctive.

"He does a lot of stuff that we can't coach or wouldn't try to coach," Garcia said.

His instincts reflect his commitment. Sherman watches film for four to five hours a night, sometimes replaying the same play for an hour until he has it memorized.

"I don't want to do too much thinking on the field," Sherman said. "It makes me feel in control, and I like being in control."

In the first game this season, he caught his first interception against Durant. The play was a screen pass. Sherman was in the passing lane before the ball was in the air. The interception was in the books before the ball was in his hands. He was mobbed by his teammates. Tackle Davion Lewis gave him a shoulder bump and knocked him to the ground.

Everyone was going nuts, except Garcia, who stood stunned.

"It was like I saw Big Foot, a UFO, Stonehenge all at the same time," Garcia said.

Sherman has been ridiculed for his inability to catch, so much so that Garcia claims you can't play catch with him.

And to think that all of this almost didn't happen. Sherman almost didn't go to Hillsborough. But he told his mom about his fascination with the school. He had been going to Terrier football games since he was 5.

"I didn't want to go to another school," he said.

He wanted control. He didn't want change.

"You know how if a kid sees a teddy bear out of a million, he'll want that one instead of a lot?" Sherman said. "You just pick that special teddy bear."

He could have chosen Jefferson, Armwood, Blake.

Instead, he chose to play for the Terriers.

Hillsborough was that teddy bear.

Contact Aaron Torres at atorres@tampabay.com. Follow @AaronTorres_.

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