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Kevin worried too, about culture shock in Palo Alto, but Stanford coaches found a way to ease the transition, making Sherman the rare incoming freshman football player to enroll in the summer. "I was with kids from prestigious private schools, and they were drawing comparisons between Plato and Aristotle," says Sherman. "A lot went over my head. I hadn't even read The Iliad yet. I had to check out all these books just so I could know what everybody was talking about."
While Sherman led Stanford with 34 catches as a freshman, in 2006, the Cardinal went 1--11, and shortly thereafter hired Harbaugh. "I met him in his office, and he was full of energy," Sherman recalls. "He was so fiery. I think I was his favorite guy. I don't know why that changed. But it did."
Through the first eight games of 2007, Sherman was Stanford's leading receiver, with 36 catches for 635 yards. But in the ninth game, against Washington, he caught just two passes for 11 yards and was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct while covering a punt. Senior receiver Evan Moore challenged Sherman on the sideline to control his emotions, prompting a shoving match, and Harbaugh suspended Sherman for the following game. He caught just one pass for five yards the remainder of the season. "He and Harbaugh clashed more than once," says Kevin.
"You learn to harness some things in college—intensity, competitiveness—and Richard did a good job of that," says Harbaugh. "I have long and good memories of when we were together. With coaches and players, if you end up being friends, that's great. But it's far more important to me personally that we took care of his future."
Sherman redshirted 2008 because of a left-knee injury, fell down the depth chart and called home, wondering if he should transfer. "You're going to leave Stanford for some rinky-dink school just because you want to play football and don't get along with some coach?" Beverly asked, incredulous. "No. You go make it happen."
Harbaugh was in charge of the offense but delegated defensive duties, so Sherman texted the coach and asked to switch to cornerback, the position Carroll thought he should have been playing all along. "That call saved him," Kevin says, "because Richard didn't have to deal with Harbaugh anymore. They were out of each other's hair." In the winter of 2009, reporters asked Harbaugh about Sherman's new position. His response: "Don't know if he'll be able to beat anybody out over there or not."
Harbaugh and Carroll were just beginning their West Coast feud—that November, after Harbaugh tried a two-point conversion late in a 55--21 trouncing of the Trojans, Carroll unforgettably asked, "What's your deal?"—and Stanford defensive coordinator Ron Lynn sat smack in the middle of it. Having previously served under Carroll in the NFL with the Patriots, he was now working for Harbaugh, installing the same bump-and-run system that he'd employed with Carroll. He gave Sherman training tape of other rangy cornerbacks, many of whom Carroll had tutored, such as New England's Steve Israel. "On offense Richard was becoming problematic—he wasn't doing what he wanted to do or needed to," says Lynn. "He had come to the end of his rope, the end of the line, and he was about at the abyss. He knew this was his last shot. I told him, 'You may never play football again, but your chances will be greatly enhanced if you keep your mouth closed until you know what's going on.' "
Lynn saw in Sherman what Donerson had: a player fueled by the sound of his own voice, but occasionally distracted by it. You can't silence him ("That's like taking the spear from a hunter," Sherman says), but you also can't let him turn the field into the Improv. "Leave enough oxygen for everybody else," Lynn advised.
Sherman started at corner his final two years in Palo Alto, applying the knowledge that he'd gained as a receiver. "He's able to look at formations and tell you what's going to happen," says Doug Baldwin, who was a teammate of Sherman's at Stanford before Seattle. "If a receiver has an inside edge split or an outside edge split, he can determine what type of route it will be. He reads everything and does it fast."
Sherman blended in at Stanford after all, earning a degree in communications in June 2010. Meanwhile, six of his high school teammates graduated from major colleges around the same time. "He was helping those guys all the way through," says Donerson. "He was calling them, texting them—reminding them what they needed to do." Sherman mourns one former teammate who didn't make it. "He was about to enroll at Cal State--Dominguez Hills," he says. "We had the paperwork in. We had the financial aid set. He was right there." In May '07, Marcus (Scooby) Peters was shot and killed outside an apartment complex in Long Beach—so says the newspaper article hanging outside Sherman's bedroom at his parents' new home.