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Following a dream

Herrick to live out dream of playing at Ole Miss, ­­­but from opposite sideline

Posted: July 18, 2009 9:41 p.m.
Updated: July 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
On Nov. 7, Michael Herrick will finally realize his dream.

He will, barring unforseen circumstances, step foot onto the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. as the starting quarterback.

But not the way he first dreamt it.

Not as the quarterback for the University of Mississippi.

As the quarterback at Northern Arizona University.
NAU will play Ole Miss that day.

Since graduating from Valencia High in 2006 as California’s all-time passing yardage leader, Herrick’s football career hasn’t taken off the way he hoped.

He has gone from the Southeastern Conference where he served as a backup quarterback for Ole Miss in 2006 and 2007, to Northern Arizona of the much-less heralded Big Sky Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision, where he transferred prior to the 2008 season.

The journey has changed him.

“I think I used to believe in a lot of things more,” Herrick says, now a 20-year-old redshirt junior. “I don’t know. I used to dream a lot more. Now I’m more realistic. I wish it was the other way around. It’s fun to dream.”

Dreams aren’t dead in Herrick’s mind, but according to his father Greg Herrick, who is the longtime head coach of the College of the Canyons women’s basketball team, Michael Herrick is a different person in some ways.

“He’s become very cynical,” Greg says.

Herrick committed to the first school that recruited him in Ole Miss.

Greg remembers then head coach Ed Orgeron telling the family about the opportunities the Valencia High graduate would have in Oxford.

But in two seasons with the Rebels, Herrick saw his opportunities dwindle.

This, despite Ole Miss dressing him and allowing him to travel with the team in 2006 as a redshirt sophomore.

Leading into 2007, he thought he would be given the chance to win the starting job for the Rebels.

But before the season began, he had his tonsils taken out, setting his progress back.

“At a certain point I thought they were going to give me a shot,” Herrick said.

Especially during that season, as the Rebels finished 3-9.

But toward the tail end of the season, Herrick knew that Mississippi wasn’t the place for him.

Prep All-American and former University of Texas quarterback Jevan Snead decided to transfer to Ole Miss.

Herrick says he knew the writing was on the wall for who would be the future of the program.

“Once they got him, I didn’t have a chance,” Herrick says. “Regardless of what I did, it wouldn’t have mattered because I wasn’t their guy.”

But Herrick also admits that he didn’t fit in well.

“Yeah, definitely,” Herrick says on if he suffered some culture shock. “I didn’t think I stood out. But I wore the board shorts, they wore the camouflage hats. It’s different. It was a good experience. But it’s very different.”

Greg, a tell-it-like-it-is coach, says that his son might not have gotten a fair shake and it was partially because he didn’t pass the “eye test.”

Herrick arrived at Ole Miss as 6-foot-1-inch and 163 pounds.

He put on nearly 30 pounds during his first season, yet his slender frame was still very evident.

It never bothered him in high school.

Herrick had poise and decision-making ability that was hard to compare.

He made his varsity debut for the Vikings Sept. 12, 2003. Bishop Amat jumped out to a 21-0 lead before the sophomore led his team to a 31-28 victory.

Herrick threw for a school record 421 yards in the game.

The next season, he led the Vikings to the CIF-Southern Section Division II championship game where he put up better numbers than Mission Viejo signal caller and current New York Jet Mark Sanchez.

Herrick was 23-of-33 for 350 yards compared to Sanchez’s 12-of-19, 181-yard performance.

He set the all-time passing yardage record for the state of California with 11,010 yards.

But it didn’t guarantee him anything at Mississippi.

“I obviously knew going in (to Ole Miss) that everyone coming in were guys like me,” Herrick says, knowing that the competition would get tougher because the athletes were better. “The whole thing starts all over again.”

It started all over again after Ole Miss lost to LSU on Nov. 17, 2007.

Herrick hoped he’d get the opportunity to play in the game, but he never did.

“I remember a talk I had with my dad. I was in front of my house. ‘Dad I don’t think I’m going to get a shot here,’” Herrick recalls.

After the LSU game, he informed Orgeron that he would be leaving the school.

There was hope that he could latch onto another Bowl Championship Series program, but he decided ultimately to take an offer from Northern Arizona University.

Last season, Herrick’s first with the Lumberjacks, he was not the starter.

People that know his competitive nature know that it was a disappointment for him.

Nonetheless, he got into 10 games and threw for 1,043 yards and three touchdowns to six interceptions. He completed 64.7 percent of his passes.

“There were some growing pains,” said NAU head coach Jerome Souers of Herrick’s 2008 season.

Souers says Herrick was knocking the rust off last season and getting acclimated to a new system.

The 13th-year head coach adds that Herrick has adapted well to the program and is now more poised to lead the team.

“Looking at last spring, you could see he’s more comfortable in the pocket and managing our offense with more authority and assertiveness,” Souers says.

This all leads into the 2009 season where Herrick goes in as the team’s starter.

No surprise, Herrick and Souers go with the “one week at a time” line, but there’s no doubt that Nov. 7 looms.

“It’s part of Michael’s past,” Souers says of Mississippi. “Sure I’d love to see him play a great game. Everyone will take a little internal motivation (into the game).”

Herrick gives an ever-so-slight pause before commenting about the game.

“I don’t know if it will be the biggest game of my life,” he says. “It’s going to be fun. I’m excited for my family. I know it means a lot for my mom and dad. I don’t know. I’m excited for my teammates, too. It’s a fun place to play. It’s a fun atmosphere.”

And it’s one dream that will likely come true.

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