Joe Sheeran had an outstanding senior year for Mainland in both baseball and football, leading both teams to sectional championships. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
When you look at Joe Sheeran, he looks every bit the part of the average high school athlete. He’s 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, completely average height and weight, no tattoos covering his arms, no wild dyed hair. There was nothing fancy about Sheeran during his Mainland Regional High football and baseball careers. Most Mustangs sports fans probably didn’t even know he was on either of those teams.
By the looks of it, Joe Sheeran was completely average the last four years.
But looks can be deceiving. Because there was nothing average about what Sheeran accomplished during his Mustangs career, and the way he went about his business was far from average.
The Covid-19 pandemic wiped out his freshman baseball season, right after he had transferred back home to Mainland after a semester at Holy Spirit. But instead of getting bored, lazy and out of shape, Sheeran took advantage of the opportunity of being home every day with nothing but hours to work on his skills and get his body ready for varsity competition.
“It was really tough because I just transferred to mainland and I really didn’t get a chance to get myself known by the school. We couldn’t go to school in person, it was all online at the time, so it was really tough. I wanted to get into Mainland. I was so excited and then everything got cancelled, so that was really unfortunate,” Sheeran said. “I realized that the gym was really important during covid. My dad made an at-home squat rack — it was wood and concrete and buckets and we could do bench and squats. So I would just do that every day and I really got bigger and stronger. So that really helped out a lot.”
“He was a three-year starter for us in football and baseball, and in key positions for us, too. He was a 2-hole hitter for us this year and starting left fielder for three years. He played in two South Jersey finals and the state final, and in football he played the corner position and elevated his game so much by the end of the season that he was the guy we tapped to cover Millville’s top receiver in the state semifinal game. I’m so proud of the player he became and he’s an even better kid off the field,” said Billy Kern, Mainland’s head baseball coach and an assistant for the football team. “I think he’s a good example for young high school athletes about changing your body. He was a workhorse in the weight room and he physically changed his body from year to year. Had a pretty bad injury his junior year. He broke his wrist catching the ball and running into the fence. So he overcame some adversity, too. He had a fantastic career in in two sports and playing in monster games — and showing up in those big games.”
“As a coach, he did everything you asked of a player — lived in the weight room, super coachable on the field; he actually became kind of like a quasi-coach on the field his senior year. Just very dependable, reliable. And it really showed because he was banged up a little in the playoffs and we got exposed a little bit. We had to bring him back in sooner than we anticipated to help us win that championship,” said Chuck Smith, Mainland head football coach. “In high school football, you’re lucky if you have one corner to put on the other team’s best receiver and we were fortunate to have two. So it really made us strong in the secondary. He did anything you asked of him. He was good against the run and he made some big plays at the right times.
“The thing is, he could have been a very good running back in our system, too, but we just didn’t need him at that position. We were fortunate to have enough talent that he could just concentrate on one side of ball.”
Mainland went 10-2 last fall in football, won a sectional championship and was one win away from playing for a state championship. They faced a formidable challenge in the state semifinals against a hugely talented Millville team that boasts one of the best wide receivers in the country in Lotzeir Brooks. Smith asked Sheeran to take on the responsibility of covering Brooks, and Sheeran did his homework. He watched hours of film, and ended up limiting Brooks to just four catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns. Brooks was an all-state selection who finished the season with nearly 1,100 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.
“He was on Brooks and he did a nice job. I know everybody’s going to say, ‘oh, the weather was bad.’ But we really didn’t give those guys any room catching the ball and making any moves,” Smith said. “He’s a tremendous athlete. He played two sports and both were championship teams.”
“Him getting recruited by Alabama and stuff made me very nervous. He’s got Power-5 offers and then you have me — I would say just the average high school cornerback,” Sheeran said. “I just was watching a lot of film that week. He had four catches for 44 yards, so I was really excited with my performance that game. I wouldn’t say I did anything specific. I just watched so much film so I knew what he would do on different routes.”
Sheeran’s final baseball season didn’t go as planned — until the state playoffs started. Mainland came into the South Jersey Group 3 sectional tournament as a No. 9 seed with a sub-.500 record. But something clicked and the Stangs went on a thrilling run that ended in the Group 3 state championship game. Along the way they beat four of the top eight seeds in the sectional tournament, including defending champion Delsea Regional in the sectional championship.
And even in the state championship game, Sheeran’s final high school baseball game, coach Kern asked him to bunt in two of his four at-bats. He got the reaction he expected from Sheeran — ‘yes, sir.’
“I mean, that stretch was insane. Obviously, we didn’t have a great regular season. Being the captain, I tried pulling everyone together. But it just seemed like something wasn’t working and then right before the first playoff game, I told the guys, ‘listen, me, Nick Wagner, Bryan Perez, it’s our senior year and we don’t want to go out like this. Let’s put something together.’ Those two weeks were unbelievable for me. I wasn’t expecting to go on that run at all, but I’m so glad we did. Deep down, I knew we had the talent, I’m just glad we put it all together to get to a state championship. Unfortunately, we fell short, but I was so happy with the ride that we had,” Sheeran said. “I wasn’t disappointed (in having to bunt) because I’ve always been a team player, so I knew if that was going to be my job, then it had to be. The first time I got on and ended up scoring that inning. I trusted coach Kern and I’m glad he trusted me to be the guy to do that job.”
That’s the thing with Joe Sheeran. He wants to win, and if a coach asking him to do something gives his team a better chance at winning, there’s no second-guessing.
“It’s just a tribute to his character, he does what’s asked of him, doesn’t put himself in front of the team, does whatever’s necessary to win. He did that in football, he did it for the baseball team. He comes from a great sports family. Mom and Dad both were stellar athletes in high school and his younger sister is a great athlete. It’s in their blood to be that way when you come from an athletic family like that,” Smith said. “He led by example. In practice, for example, he always gave one hundred percent in everything, any kind of drill; in the weight room, in the locker room. Young kids can see that, how someone like him performs who is not necessarily is the star of the team. That really helps build the program.”
“It’s one of those things where you get to the end of the career with guys like him and you start worrying a little bit about replacing not so much the numbers, because you can sometimes piece together numbers, but the off-the-field stuff — the leadership, the character. He’s one of those guys that when they graduate you kind of just say ‘thank you’ to mom and dad because they had a lot to do with it. They are great people. I coach their daughter in hoops and she’s fantastic on and off the court as well,” Kern said. “People just gravitate toward Joe. He just has a kind of quality about him, you can tell he’s heading in the right direction, that he’s going to say and do the right thing and it’s great for your young players to see that.”
Sheeran will take bags full of memories with him to the University of Delaware, where he plans to study sports management. But what will people remember about him 20 years down the road?
He thought about that question for a minute, then gave a quintessential Joe Sheeran answer: “Obviously, I’m not the biggest kid out on the field. I’m not the strongest kid out on the field in baseball or football, but I would just always stick to the grind, be committed to what I was doing. I just always left everything on the field, gave 110 percent. I wasn’t the biggest kid out there at all, but I knew I had a big heart and that’s all I needed. I hope that’s what people remember.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays