August 9, 2009 12:02:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Derek Sherrod has always had a family member available to encourage him at Mississippi State.
He just didn''t always realize it.
One of the reasons Sherrod chose to play at Mississippi State was because his older brother, Dezmond, was already there as a tight end in Sylvester Croom''s West Coast offense.
After Dezmond graduated and signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Derek missed having a family member around.
That''s until Sherrod found out he had a cousin also with the Bulldogs in Tobias Smith.
Sherrod and Smith learned about their kinship during the spring when Sherrod''s mother (Harriette Sherrod) and Smith''s grandmother engaged in a conversation during a parent''s meeting.
"They became friends and started talking," Sherrod said. "We put two-and-two together and figured out we were linked family-wise. It was a good coincidence.
"It was very unexpected because I really didn''t know Tobias before he came here because I went to Caledonia (High School) and he went to Columbus. We became pretty good friends since we''ve gotten here and have a lot of things in common."
Sherrod said he''s more comfortable with a family member on the team.
Smith, who graduated from Columbus High in 2008, is listed as the starting right guard for the Bulldogs, while Sherrod, a 2007 Caledonia High graduate, is at the top of the depth chart at left tackle.
Sherrod knows that two family members starting on the same offensive line is rare.
Smith, who calls the relationship he has with Sherrod "a special thing" on the offensive line, values the experience of his cousin and tries to soak up everything he can from him.
"Derek knows what he''s doing so anything I need here, I''ll go talk to him," Smith said. "Even though he''s on the other side, it''s basically the same thing, you just flip around numbers."
Mississippi State senior quarterback Tyson Lee, also from Columbus, likes having Sherrod (6-foot-7, 310 pounds) and Smith (6-4, 310) protecting him up front.
"Those are two guys who give effort, they work hard and you can trust them," Lee said.
Since they''re all from Lowndes County, Lee calls Sherrod and Smith like brothers.
Lee even grew up playing soccer with Sherrod.
"Believe it or not, big Derek used to be small Derek," Lee said with a grin.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said "it''s a neat deal" having two cousins on the offensive line at the same time.
He believes Sherrod and Smith have more in common than just being family.
"I think both have the potential to be very good football players and we expect a lot out of them," Mullen said. "The one thing that you do see is that both have similar work ethics. They come to work every single day. When you have guys who have that same mindset and push each other, they are continually going to push each other back and forth and develop themselves to be even greater."
In addition to pushing each other better, Sherrod and Smith hope to help Mississippi State get better.
1. New Hope boys' basketball falls in Class 5A playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Starkville boys denied return trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. West Lowndes boys earn third straight trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS