Richard Sherman lends a hand, counsels San Jose area juvenile offenders

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The feeling-out period is over and San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman leans forward in his chair, taking care to make eye contact with each of the 20 kids as they listen with rapt attention.

It’s time for Sherman to get serious with the kids, who are serving time in unit 1B at the Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall. He’s been talking for about 15 minutes, with each side slowly easing into real conversation.

The questions come slowly, ranging from what sport Sherman would have played if not football (track) to whether he plays Madden (he’s more of an NBA 2K guy) to whether it hurts to tackle someone (not usually, but a recent stinger against the Los Angeles Rams earns mention) to what his first purchase was when he signed his NFL contract (a 2011 BMW 745).

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The next question comes from one of the adults in the room, asking Sherman how he made it through his own difficult times. He begins describing what it was like to grow up in South Central Los Angeles and the dangers that awaited outside of his family home. He tells the young men, all between 13 and 17 years old, about how he kept his focus on school work and realized early things wouldn’t come easily.

Sherman is just getting warmed up, when he sits up and gets to the heart of his message: “You get 24 hours in a day,” Sherman says. “And I guarantee you that you all understand the importance of every minute of 24 hours right now. When you get free and can control your own destiny, take advantage of every minute and every second of the 24 hours. When you get it back, never give it back to anybody. Live your life to the fullest.”

‘A million forks in the road’

Although he grew up in a loving, tight-knit home with parents working hard to put food on the table, Sherman’s childhood was spent just north of Compton, known as one of the roughest cities in greater Los Angeles. Sherman’s daily life included regular encounters with gangs and opportunities to go down the wrong road.

“There’s been a million forks in the road throughout my life,” Sherman said. “Just because that’s what you’re constantly around. Temptation at every turn.”

Sherman’s parents instilled in him what he calls the “fundamental values” — to not take the wrong path when those forks present themselves.

As a teenager, one of Sherman’s closest friends got involved with a gang. As his friend was preparing for his initiation, he began to worry about what was to come. He tried to get Sherman to join him, an idea Sherman rejected.

Sherman says he pleaded with his friend to back out. He didn’t. A few years later, when Sherman was a freshman at Stanford, that friend was killed in a drive-by shooting.

“He made that decision,” Sherman said. “And, you know, those are the situations where you remember them your whole life.”

That experience, as well as a memorable visit from Magic Johnson to Sherman’s Dominguez High in which Johnson emphasized the importance of setting and achieving goals, helped Sherman become a potential Hall of Famer with a communications degree from Stanford and the ability to take care of his family.

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