CASS CITY, MI – Connor Herford awaited the baton, ready to run his heart out as the anchor of Cass City’s 4×200 relay.
He was out of his element and out of his comfort zone.
But off to the races, nonetheless.
“I know it’s not something you see (6-foot-4), 240-pound linemen doing,” he said. “It was hard, but it was good for me.”
Herford has never been one to shy from difficulty or shrink from a challenge. And that’s part of the package that makes him US Air Force Academy material.
The Cass City senior verbally committed to the service academy’s football program last week, plotting a unique course to not only become a Division I athlete but eventually an Air Force officer and a career military man.
A standout at defensive end and offensive guard for three varsity seasons with the Red Hawks, Herford becomes his school’s first Division I college football player in Scott Cuthrell’s 19 seasons as head coach.
“You’ve got to have a work ethic to go to that level – or go to the service at all – and that fits him pretty well,” Cuthrell said. “He gives everything 100 percent, so that aspect is perfect for him.
“It’s not going to be easy, but he has all the tools to hang in there and be very successful.”
Herford was a key figure in Cass City’s run to the Division 7 state semifinals as a junior. He suffered a hamstring injury that slowed him in the early part of the 2021 season, but he finished strong and sparked his team to a 5-1 record over the final two-thirds of the regular season.
“Once he got back to full tilt, he was a force to be reckoned with,” Cuthrell said. “We had him pulling on sweeps, and he showed great speed and the vision to pick up people downfield. He blazed holes for our kids.”
Herford also notched 21 solo tackles with seven tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a senior. He earned MLive Bay City Dream Team honors, was named first-team all-Greater Thumb West on both sides of the ball and landed honorable mention All-State.
But the next step is a doozy.
The son of Angela Wasierski and Ryan Herford always made college football his goal, and it was looking like a distinct reality as Division II schools such as Ferris State, Saginaw Valley and Grand Valley showed interest.
But Air Force and coach Troy Calhoun recently became joiners to Herford’s recruitment and quickly won him over. He flew to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for an official visit and liked what he saw – as most people do at the picturesque campus located on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
“It’s in a mountain and it’s beautiful,” he said.
But making the move to the Air Force details much more than the normal college plan. Cadet-athletes are required to serve five years of active duty after their playing days, generally as officers after graduation from the academy.
A 3.55 GPA student, Herford said he plans to specialize in physical therapy and intends to make a career out of his military commitment.
“It’s probably the biggest decision I’ll ever make,” he said. “I definitely had to think it through. My parents are all for it, but they agreed it would be hard and life-changing.
“I’ll definitely have to establish a strict discipline and be big on time management. It will be a grind for the next four or five years, but I feel my work ethic is as good as anybody.”
That work ethic kept him plodding toward a Division I destiny. He was diligent in the weight room and attended several camps to hone his skills. And he even took on sprinting duties on the Cass City track and field team to help improve his speed and stamina.
A league and regional champion in the shot put, he was a regular in the 200 dash and 4×200 relay, where he often measured 70-100 pounds larger than the competition.
“When you see a big man like that coming down the stretch, everybody is like ‘Good god!’” said Cuthrell. “And he wasn’t getting whupped. He maintained or pulled ahead.”
Coming from a small, Thumb-area community presented additional challenges for Herford in his college football goals. But it also made him the player and person he is today.
“Getting recognition is very hard,” he said. “You’ve got to be the best one at camps and you have to work twice as hard. Everybody else has their name out there. Nobody knows where Cass City is on a map.
“(But) we play hard-hitting football here. Since Pee Wee, I’ve been taught that you have to work for your spot, and that should translate well to the college level.”
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Bay City area athletes competing in college basketball in 2021-22
Bay City area football players competing at the college level in 2021
An Early Signing Day look at where Bay City area athletes are heading to college