The position of a NFL free safety can be a inglorious one. They are among the lowest paid players, and the quarterback, running back, linebacker and even cornerback positions usually get more publicity. But every once in a while a safety comes along who changes all of that. Deron Cherry was one of those safeties.
Deron was born on September 12th, 1959 in Highland Park, Michigan, but Cherry spent most of his formative years in Palmyra, New Jersey. He was a standout quarterback at Palmyra High School, and accepted a scholarship to play for Rutgers University. Deron was a double threat, not only did he play quarterback he was also the starting punter.
Cherry moved over to safety, and earned Rutgers' MVP award in 1979, and All East honors in 1980 and 1981. Despite those accolades, no NFL team ended up drafting Cherry, but his punting skills and some connections were good enough to get him invited to the training camp of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs had hired Rutgers' defensive coordinator, Ted Cottrel the same year Cherry was trying out (1981), so Cottrel was familiar with what Cherry could do. Even though Cherry was trying out to only be a punter, his rise to safety stardom was not long in coming.
What actually helped out Cherry in his NFL career was the fact that he was not a great punter, partially due to the fact that the coaching staff tinkered with his punting mechanics in camp. Cherry realized that punting was not his path to sticking in the NFL, so he took it upon himself to call then head coach Marv Levy. Cherry recalls the conversation this way:
"Coach Levy, I know my punting wasn't what it should be but he had me changing to a two-step punt,". Cherry also added, "I had the opportunity to see those safeties you drafted in mini camp and I can play as good as them – talk to Coach Cottrell."
Levy listened and let Cherry show his safety skills in camp. While Cherry did not make the final roster that year, he was brought back a few games into the season. With his excellent work ethic Cherry became a full time starter in his third season and went to his first Pro Bowl in 1983. It wouldn't be the last time he would be there, he made six in a row, starting five.
Cherry had a "nose for the ball" as people would say. He grabbed 50 interceptions in his 11 year career (only 26 others have done this) and also racked up 15 forced fumbles. He also is tied for the record for interceptions in one game with four (a game vs the Seahawks in 1985). He tackled as well as he covered, racking up six one hundred tackle seasons as well.
Cherry was not just a great football player, he was (and is) a great person. Carl Peterson the Chiefs President/ GM and CEO, had this to say about Cherry after his retirement in 1992:
"Deron Cherry exemplifies all that is good in professional football. He has been an outstanding player and player representative for the Chiefs these past 11 years. We will not only miss his presence on the field, but also his work ethic, his leadership and commitment, and his work in the community."
Peterson was not alone. In 1988 Cherry received the NFL Player's Association's highest honor, the Byron White Humanitarian Award for service to his team, community, and country. In his playing days, he hosted two annual golf tournaments to raise money for the March of Dimes and MDA. He also established a community program called "Score One for Health" (a program that visits Kansas City area schools and treats and screens school age kids) and hosts an annual golf outing that benefits the Park Lane Foundation. He is also involved in several other civic organizations, including Special Olympics, Project Warmth, and the United Negro College Fund.
Cherry also works just as hard now as he did on the gridiron. He is a minority owner in the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL franchise, a partner in a Kansas City Anheuser-Busch distributorship, and owns a Kansas City area auto dealership, All-Pro Ford Auto. He lives in Lee's Summit, MO with his wife, Faith and son Deron II.
Some Deron Cherry facts:
- Inducted to the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1995.
- Voted NFL second team all decade. (1980's)
- Selected to the Chiefs' 25 year All-Time team in 1987.
- Was named Chiefs man of the year in 1987.
- Played in 148 NFL games, amassing 927 tackles, 50 interceptions, and three touchdowns.
Submitted to Everything Quests: Athletes and Sports Figures