5/2/2014 6:00:00 AM Herrero conquered the gridiron at NAU Academy graduate now has physical therapy doctorate in sight
Jim Herrero (61) lines up at the right guard position for NAU against UC Davis Sept. 14, 2013 in Davis, Calif. Herrero made two starts for the Lumberjacks this past season before getting injured. Herrero walked on after graduating Kingman Academy High and earned the offer of a full-ride football scholarship for this upcoming season. The former Tiger turned it down to earn a doctorate.
KINGMAN - When Northern Arizona lined up for its spring football game last Sunday in Flagstaff, the Lumberjacks had to get to the line of scrimmage without Jim Herrero.
After graduating from Kingman Academy High in 2011, Herrero walked on with NAU. He was named Scout Player of the Year in 2012 for the Lumberjacks. Though he has two years of eligibility remaining and was offered a full-ride football scholarship for the upcoming season, Herrero has walked off the field to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy.
Herrero is set to graduate with a major in exercise science in just three years, and now he's ready to take the next step in his education.
"I would have had to miss about two-thirds of football practice time and some school," Herrero said. "I would have done both if I could, but it turned out that it would have been too difficult."
Herrero started two games for NAU at center this past season, and offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello sounded disappointed when talking about him leaving the football team.
"We completely understand where he is headed," Scangarello said. "We're going to miss him. He was a great person in the locker room and he made other people better because of that."
When Herrero walked on three years ago, he was 6 foot, 1 inch and weighed just 210 pounds. That's rather small for an offensive lineman at the Division I college level.
"Some of the wide receivers were bigger than me," Herrero said.
Scangarello recognizes he was witness to something that isn't seen often. He saw a scrawny freshman get to the size and skill necessary for an offensive lineman and offered a scholarship to him.
"That's very rare," the coach said. "The truth is that it's a testament to his work ethic and his overall IQ as a player. He is smart and savvy, and that made up for his lack of size."
Herrero's playing size was 6-2, 275, and he's now down to 235.
Ray Smith, assistant coach at Lee Williams High, first saw Herrero's potential when Smith coached him at Kingman Academy.
"The first thing I saw was how good his feet were," Smith said. "That is the No. 1 thing when you're talking about offensive linemen. His were unbelievable. Then mix in his intelligence, that's when I said he was my center. I had a coach on the field."
Herrero currently has a grade point average of 3.94 and was the first NAU football player since 2011 to receive the coveted Gold Axe. That award is a tribute to outstanding academic performance, leadership and service to the community, according to a statement released by NAU.
Herrero was influenced greatly by Dustin Brisco of Physiotherapy Associates. Brisco, now also an assistant coach at The Academy, has been on the sidelines for Tiger football games for years now, and Herrero observed Brisco at work.
"When I was in high school, I was interested in what Dustin was doing," Herrero said. "When I got to college I found out that this is what I really want to do."
Admission to the Physical Therapy doctorate program at NAU is competitive. For the upcoming class, there were 1,300 applicants and 250 interviews for 72 spots. Herrero landed one, and Brisco played a role with a letter of recommendation he wrote for Herrero to the school.
"It's always good when we see people that we deem to be high-quality who are upstanding go into our profession," Brisco said. "I'm excited for Jim. He's a good kid, he's bright and has a good head on his shoulders."