TAHLEQUAH — Before Steffon Herd began high school, he never thought he would one day play football at the collegiate level. He also wasn’t able to point out Tahlequah on a state map.
A lot can change in eight years.
The Del City native is set to begin his senior campaign with the Northeastern State football team and he’ll take on the roles of being a team leader and a defensive playmaker. He enters his final collegiate season as a three-year letter winner and a two-time All-MIAA Honorable Mention honoree, owning 188 career tackles to go along with 9.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, one interception, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble.
Herd’s accolades speak for themselves, but NSU head coach Rob Robinson said his character is what separates himself from a vast majority of Division II football players.
“The guy is non-stop and you can’t break him,” Robinson said. “He’s the guy you look to. If there’s ever a question about how something’s going with the team, I go right to him and get his pulse on it. He’s made a habit of being the hardest worker he can possibly be, and that’s a big reason he’s taken the steps to being the player he is today.”
The combination of Herd’s size and athleticism is what caught the attention of college football scouts when he played at Del City High School. But ironically, Herd had envisioned himself playing basketball in college ever since he was at a young age.
It wasn’t until Herd’s freshman year of high school that he played football for the first time. Nick Warehime, the DCHS football head coach at the time, saw Herd’s size and immediately tried convincing him to join the team. Herd was hesitant at first, mostly because his mother, Dana Herd, was strongly against the idea of him playing. But Herd felt a connection with Coach Warehime, so he decided to try his hand at a new sport.
“I started playing football at a late age but I loved it right away,” Herd said. “I had anger issues growing up, so I just released my anger through football. My mom didn’t want me to play. She hated it and thought I was always going to get hurt. She’s still kind of sketchy about it to this day, but she’s like, ‘All right, you’re pretty good at it, so we can roll with it.’ She’s my biggest fan, though, and she always will be.”
Once a one-sport specialist in basketball, Herd quickly became a standout in both basketball and football at Del City. He claims he was a standout in a third sport, wrestling, since he holds a lifetime record of 1-0 as a grappler. But he admits that the label “standout wrestler” is up for debate since his victory was by forfeit.
“The wrestling team needed an extra guy to go out and take a forfeit for team points,” Herd said with a laugh. “You can look it up, though. I’m undefeated in wrestling.”
By the time Herd’s senior year at Del City rolled around, he had to make one of the biggest decision of his life. The eventual All-Conference awardee started receiving college offers for both basketball and football from multiple schools across the country, so he relied on the nuggets of wisdom his inner circle provided to make his decision.
“A lot of the people close to me helped me throughout the decision process, and I found that a lot of them were pushing for football because there are so many more opportunities with more positions and things like that,” Herd said. “That was really the main reason I chose football.”
It was around that time that NSU began its recruitment of Herd. Coaches visited him in Del City to pitch the program, and they had to start with the basics. Like where the college was located.
“I didn’t even know there was a Tahlequah in Oklahoma,” Herd said with a grin. “When my coach came to Del City to recruit me, I was like, ‘I don’t know where this town even is.’ It was a culture shock when I first got here, but I embraced it. I’m from the city, and being here is way different. I like the outdoors and I like to fish, float the river, ride horses and things like that. So, Tahlequah was a good fit.”
Herd quickly felt at home in Tahlequah once he arrived on campus in 2012. The relationships he’s built over the years with friends, teammates and coaches is what’s mattered to him most.
“NSU has been a blessing, honestly, Herd said. “It’s fun embracing all of the guys, setting your friends and just going out with our teammates and competing.”
As Herd enters the finale to his memorable career with the RiverHawks, he feels more eager than ever to go out and compete with his team, which he now considers family.
“I just go out there every day and push myself to be better than the previous day. I think of it as me competing against the other safeties in the conference every time I walk on to the field, whether for a game or for practice.
“The expectation for me is to go out there and play to my full potential. I just want to go 100-percent every play. I think the interceptions, tackles and all the other stats will just come with it if I do that.”
Eight years ago, Herd couldn’t point out Tahlequah on a state map. Now, he’s aiming to put the town on college football’s map.