Back in L.A.

Welcome to Tuesdays with Richard on Thursdays, a weekly multimedia series featuring Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Throughout the 2016 season, Richard will provide a unique and intimate glance at his life behind-the-scenes and on the field, across articles, photos and videos.

“You’ve already got two strikes.”

Coach Carroll says that to me a lot. I remember one of the first times he said it. It was midway through my rookie season when I had just started playing regularly. He was playing quarterback for the scout team, and he dropped back and threw the ball to my side. I don’t remember if I picked it off or broke it up, but I know I made a play. He pointed at me and smiled.

“You’d better watch yourself … you’ve already got two strikes.”

I shrugged my shoulders, smiled back at him and said, “Hey, I’m a competitor. You wanted a competitor, and that’s what you got!”

I knew he was joking around. Pete doesn’t take himself too seriously. Besides, I knew what he was talking about. Two of the biggest plays I made when I was in college at Stanford had just happened to come against Coach Carroll when he was at USC.

The first was in my sophomore year in 2007 when I was still playing wide receiver. USC was ranked No. 2 at the time. We were unranked. With less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, trailing 23–17 and facing a fourth-and-20, I caught a ball over the middle for a first down to keep the drive alive and set up the game-winning touchdown.

Strike two came a couple of years later in 2009, after I had moved to cornerback. We were back at the L.A. Coliseum, this time facing an eleventh-ranked USC team. We were ranked 25th. Up 35–21 in the fourth quarter, I got a pick-six to basically seal the game and another upset.

Those are two of my favorite memories from college. Not because they came against Coach Carroll and USC, but because they were big plays that were a part of upset wins, and because both happened at the L.A. Coliseum, 20 minutes up the road from where I grew up, in Compton, Calif.

This week, for the first time since we each left college for the NFL, Coach Carroll and I are going back to the L.A. Coliseum. This time, together, as Seahawks.

It’s exciting for me to see pro football back in Los Angeles. First of all, the Rams are still in our division, and that’s one more flight across time zones we won’t have to make anymore. So that’s a win … but more seriously, on a much larger scale, it’s great for the city of Los Angeles — especially the area where I grew up. Not only will it hopefully bring more jobs and more energy and life to the area, but my hope is that it will also give kids something else to aspire to — kids from rough neighborhoods who need as many positive role models as possible.

I had just turned seven when the Raiders and the Rams left L.A., so I don’t have any childhood NFL memories. My favorite football team growing up was the Tennessee Volunteers.

I was a pretty random kid….

I picked the Vols because they were on television a lot (they were a powerhouse back in the ’90s) and a few guys from our part of L.A. had gone there to play football.

Plus, I loved the orange uniforms.

Kids … right?

I also followed the Houston Oilers because Warren Moon was one of the only black quarterbacks in the NFL at the time. As a black kid who wanted to play football, I saw him and thought, I’m rooting for that guy.

But it wasn’t like it is today, where social media, cable and the Internet make our heroes feel ever-present and tangible. Warren Moon felt very far away. When I was growing up, if you didn’t have an NFL team in your city, all you had was the one or two games that were featured on television each week, and a couple of interviews on the sports report during the 10 o’clock news.

My hope is that with the Rams back in L.A., kids where I grew up will have more role models present in their communities.

I was pretty fortunate to have both my parents in my life and in my home growing up — parents who worked hard and emphasized the importance of education. My dad drove a garbage truck for the city of Los Angeles, and every morning for as long as I can remember, he went to work at 4 a.m., came home at 2 p.m. Even after I had made it to the NFL, he still went to work every day. He worked hard, and he never complained.

That example that he set — that kind of blue-collar work ethic — is what helped get me to where I am today.

But a lot of kids in South Central L.A. don’t have those kinds of examples at home. Even today, when I go back to Compton, kids ask me how I did it. How did I get out? I tell them about my parents, and they ask, “But what do you do if you don’t have a support system at home?”

I always tell them the same thing: “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”

There are lots of people who’ve come from Compton and become successful, so kids don’t have to fall victim to the inner-city stereotype. I’m living proof that there are the ways to get out besides dead or in jail.

Sometimes I think those kids need to not only hear that message, but also to see it manifest itself, just to remind them — even when things get rough and they feel helpless or trapped — that it’s possible.

Kids don’t have to fall victim to the inner-city stereotype. I’m living proof that there are the ways to get out besides dead or in jail.
Kids don’t have to fall victim to the inner-city stereotype. I’m living proof that there are the ways to get out besides dead or in jail. /

Being back in L.A. and playing an NFL game for the first time in my hometown is going to be special. But I think being back at the Coliseum will be even more awesome for Coach Carroll. He’s still beloved in L.A. because of what he did at USC — not just with the football program, but also in the community. He’s been a voice in kids’ ears there for a long time now.

His foundation, A Better LA, has done a phenomenal job trying to eliminate gang violence from the city. It brings the heads of gangs together with the head of the police department to promote peace and deter crime and violence. He works with kids in the inner city to educate them and show them ways out of gang life. And because of the work he’s done, and because he genuinely cares about the city and the kids, he’s earned widespread respect in some of the toughest communities in L.A.

I remember when I was at Dominguez High and I was getting recruited. I went to a few camps and got to know some of the other recruits in the area, and we all talked to each other.

One day, a fellow recruit said to me, “Yo, Uncle Pete come see you yet?”

I was like, “Uncle who?”

“USC, dawg. Coach Carroll. Uncle Pete.”

It was too funny … these are guys from some of the roughest schools in Compton, and Coach Carroll has them calling him Uncle Pete. Even today, he can walk into the projects in Compton — projects that some of us who grew up there can’t even walk into because they’re too dangerous. He can go in and talk to the kids, shake hands and kiss babies like it’s nothing.

That’s the kind of respect and admiration he gets in those communities — because of the work he’s done, and because he genuinely cares.

I honestly think Coach Carroll will get more cheers than the Rams when they announce the teams in L.A. on Sunday.

A lot of my Seahawks teammates have been in Seattle as long as I have. We don’t have a lot of roster turnover. For each of us, the city is our adopted home, and we’re independently active in the communities in and around the Seattle area. I’ve seen firsthand the impact NFL players can have in their teams’ communities, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have made an impact myself.

That’s what I’m excited to see in L.A. now that the NFL is back.

I try to do as much as I can for the Compton community. Through my foundation, Blanket Coverage, we do random acts of kindness. We give out backpacks and school supplies. We give out turkeys on Thanksgiving. We distribute clothes and shoes. You know how many kids are too poor to afford football cleats? They’ll be out there playing in two different shoes, with spikes worn down to the nubs. So we send those kids cleats.

I’m happy that I’m able to make that kind of an impact in the community where I came from, but there’s only so much I can do from up here in Seattle. There’s no substitute for being there.

It’s going to be great to not have to rely solely on the players who came from those neighborhoods to have a presence in the community.

The Rams are a division rival. I’m trying to destroy them twice a year — three times if we see them in the playoffs. But when those guys step off the field and into my community and start trying to make a difference, they’ll become family. That’s my home — where I’m from — and it’s their adopted NFL home. So we share that. We may be on opposite sides on Sunday, but when it comes to lifting up the great city of Los Angeles and making it even greater, I’ll be right there with them, helping in any way I can.

It’s going to be pretty amazing to play an NFL game at the Coliseum, and to live my dream right up the street from where it all started. My family will be there — even some of my nieces and nephews who’ve never seen me play will be in attendance.

But this game represents something much bigger than me. It’s bigger than Coach Carroll, bigger than the Rams — it’s bigger than football. It’s about the future, the city of Los Angeles and the collective impact we can all have toward building, as Coach Carroll would call it, a better L.A.

Sunday is just the beginning.

For more from Richard Sherman throughout the 2016 NFL season, visit his Tuesdays with Richard on Thursdays page.