BURNABY — Jerrell Cummings was all of 17 years of age when he suited up for his first Simon Fraser fall football camp.
With the start of the 2021 season coming this Saturday afternoon (1 p.m.) at the FCS Div. 1 Idaho Vandals, it’s amazing when you consider how far, over the course of two adversity-filled years, the former Notre Dame Jugglers’ grad has come.
“It was honestly pretty cool,” the 5-foot-10, 185-pound sophomore cornerback said recently in reflection following a tough camp day at Terry Fox field. “I was super young but the team, they all just embraced me.
“They helped me grow as a player and as a young adult,” continued Cummings. “All of that is what has helped me get to where I am today.”
The best way to describe his current longitude and latitude on Simon Fraser’s football map?
On his way to earning Great Northwest Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year honours in 2019 at a position where youth is routinely served on a skewer to opposition offences, Cummings was an absolute revelation in leading the entire conference with 17 pass break-ups to go along wth a pick and 30 tackles, all over a tough 1-9 campaign.
Now, after a cancelled 2020 campaign did nothing but steel his purpose, and within a Simon Fraser defence listing a combined seven freshmen and sophomores as starters heading into Saturday’s opener, it’s no surprise to day that Cummings is now being looked upon as a seasoned and veteran leader.
“I think that with all of the praise that he has received to this point, he understands that expectations for him are extremely high,” said SFU assistant Jordan Linnen, who under defensive coordinator Jerome Erdman, coaches up the secondary with fellow assistant Marcus Grandison.
“The bar is set really high and and we’ve told him we’re not going to waver on that,” added Linnen, who watched Cummings play throughout high school for the Jugglers. “We have to hold him to a higher standard. And it’s not a secret. Our position group knows it, our defence knows it. If he is going to be a cornerstone on this defence, he has to continue to raise his game.”
It’s a challenge Cummings knows, in part, that he has created by himself through his own self-starting desire to achieve at the top of his game.
Soft spoken, he nonetheless, in a tone that never challenges his own sense of humility, exudes a kind of confidence through his words that serve as much to bolster the belief system of each and every one of his teammates.
“I am very confident in my ability and I do think of myself as a leader on this team,” Cummings said when asked how much of a leadership role he will play in 2021. “I feel like I have shown what I am capable of, and I have no doubt in my mind I am the best (cornerback) in our conference.”
Simon Fraser’s two-deep headed into Idaho has Cummings and freshman Kimo Hiu topping the two corner spots, with junior Joshua Phillips Vedugo and sophomore Evan Currie at the safety spots. Sitting second on the chart at corner are junior Khaleeb Webb and freshman Drew Lirag, and at safety, it’s junior Kolby Buljevic and freshman Nate Herbert.
Growing into a confident player as a corner might be the toughest defensive transition in college football, and in the case of Cummings, it’s a misnomer to call his first live reps at SFU anything less than being thrown to the wolves.
“I think for Jerrell to come in and have the confidence he had, he’ll still tell you it was trial by fire,” continues Linnen. “He had to learn and he was baptized early on in his career. He started out at a D-1 school when we played at Portland State, and then right after that we’re in Texas and we’re playing Angelo State.”
Linnen remembers, in a steel sharpens steel kind of way, just how revelatory those back-to-back tests were to a kid who just months earlier was stepping off the podium at his high school grad ceremonies.
“He joked with me at the end of the season.. he said ‘…coach, I didn’t expect to keep playing after those games, because I didn’t feel like I played very well.’ But at the end of the day, we as coaches wanted to show him that we had a vote of confidence in him, that we believed in him no matter what. After that, his confidence grew. He knew we believed in him and he knew we were going to stick with him, no matter the trials and no matter the tribulations.
“I think for guys like Jerrell, it was crucial to have that kind of vote of confidence because early on, playing against those big-time players in big-time programs, it could be really quick to shatter a kid’s confidence.”
Take Cummings’ entire collegiate football experience thus far and put it in a nutshell.
In essence, his story is the one Simon Fraser coaches hope, in some form, can be repeated with so many of the other players on its roster.
And even those not yet on a university roster.
“I think Jerrell has become a catalyst for a lot of good B.C. high school player to understand,” concluded Linnen, “that they can come here and play at the same high level.”
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