The quarterback strolls into the athletic-department offices at the Thomas & Mack Center wearing a Santa hat and a big smile. Nick Sherry’s cheery disposition is not what you would expect from someone in the midst of finals week, to say nothing of someone coming off a freshman season in which he threw more interceptions (17) than touchdown passes (16) while experiencing more than five times as many losses (11) as victories (two).
Come to think of it, how could anyone associated with the UNLV football program—one that over the past three seasons has lost 32 times in 38 games—be deemed intriguing? Least of all a teenager who landed at UNLV by happenstance?
Humble as they come, Sherry probably asks that question himself. To which we respond: One reason the Rebel football program has floundered for nearly two decades has been its inability to develop a legitimate, prototypical quarterback. In the 6-foot-5, strong-armed Sherry, it looks like the Rebels finally have found such a player, a bona fide leader around whom everyone—other players, the student body, the community—can rally. Confidence, charisma, character, intelligence (he made the UNLV Dean’s List his first two semesters), talent (his single-season marks of 2,544 passing yards and 16 TDs last year rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in school history)—all the ingredients appear to be there.
So, too, is the ability to overcome adversity, as evidenced by the peculiar road that led the Northern California native to Las Vegas. Sherry originally committed to Colorado, only to see the school fire the coaching staff that recruited him. Instead of looking elsewhere, Sherry chose to stick by his commitment, but the new regime chose not to stick by him, yanking his scholarship offer several weeks before national signing day. That sent Sherry scrambling for a new school, and he selected UNLV over Idaho and San Jose State.
“I was angry that [Colorado] let me down after six months,” he says. “And I was mad at the fact that I told the other colleges that were recruiting me to go find other quarterbacks. But we’re a really Christian family, and we put our religious views above everything. My mom always told me everything happens for a reason, God has a plan, and it’s always better than we think. And everything worked out.”
Now Sherry, who turns 20 next month, has three more seasons to try to lead one of the nation’s worst college football programs from obscurity to respectability. And he’s very much game for the challenge. “When I was going through the recruiting process, my dad told me, ‘There are always these great quarterbacks who go to USC and other [big-name] schools that are already good. But the quarterbacks you remember are the ones who turn around programs.’ That’s why I wanted to go to Colorado or Washington, because they were [down], and I wanted to be part of the rebuilding process. So UNLV was a perfect fit.”
There’s at least one outside observer who’s confident the Rebels have put the football in capable hands. “He’s such a great kid with a great family—he’ll do great things, no doubt about it,” says Washington offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, who recruited Sherry to Colorado. “He’ll be successful in anything that he does, just because of the personality he has.”