There are two types of leaders: Those who lead by dominance and those who command respect with quiet confidence.
Cheroke Cunningham is the latter.
Standing at 5’10” and weighing in at 165 pounds, the 17-year-old running back from Santa Barbara High School is tackling his senior year. This season he has 413 rushing yards, averaging 5.99 per carry.
“He leads by example,” said head football coach Doug Caines. “He’s not gonna ‘ra-ra’ and yell and ramp guys up, but he definitely comes every day, works hard, and sets the example.”
Although he was out for his junior season because of a sprained knee, Cunningham came back strong this season. Last Friday, he scored five touchdowns, rushed for 159 yards and made 19 tackles against San Marcos in the Dons’ 42-28 Big Game victory.
Cunningham hopes to play college ball and is being scouted by New Mexico State and Fordham University but hasn’t received any official offers.
“[Junior year] is the biggest season you can get recruited in,” he said. “I pretty much missed it. But I’m back this year so hopefully I still have a chance to get recruited.”
Cunningham said his top two schools would be USC or San Diego State.
He is the nephew of two of footballs greats who both played at SBHS before their careers took off. Sam Cunningham played college football as a fullback for USC from 1970-72 and then moved on to play for the New England Patriots from 1973-82.
The other uncle, Randall Cunningham, played college football for University of Nevada-Las Vegas from 1981-84 and then moved on to play quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, and the Baltimore Ravens from 1985-2001.
“Sam gives me a lot of pointers,” Cheroke said. “But it’s not like they’re any different than any other uncle.”
Cunningham takes no shortcuts, as he works to become the best he can be, for himself and his team. “Football is hard,” he said. “It depends on your team and who you’re around. If you all click, have great chemistry and a great bond, you play well. But if everyone is on a different page and people don’t want to practice, you’re on your own.”
The Dons are at 4-5 overall and 1-2 league. With an outside shot at the CIF playoffs, the team is getting hyped for the next game Friday night (Nov. 8) at Ventura.
“It’d be good to end the season with a win,” said Cunningham. “So whatever happens, it happens after that.”
The team has a total of 57 players but only about 35 come to practice regularly. Cunningham brings strong leadership to the field, especially during practice.
“He definitely shows what’s expected by his work ethic, his attendance and just his effort,” said Caines. “So I think that’s good for guys to see, especially the young guys.”
Describing Cunningham as a “game changer,” Caines said, “If we can create the lanes for him on defense and let him do his thing on offense, then I’m very excited to see his opportunity to take over the game like he showed he could do last week.”