Born: September 12, 1959
Deron Leigh Cherry was born September 12, 1959 in Riverside and grew up in Palmyra. His parents, Lillian and George, were teachers. A good athlete from an early age, Deron was a standout in youth league baseball and football by the age of 9. He attended Palmyra High School, excelling on the athletic field and in the classroom. He played both offense and defense, and also handled the Panthers’ kicking duties. Receiver Derek Hollaway, who would go on to play in the NFL, was also on the team.
Deron accepted a scholarship from Rutgers, where he played both football and baseball. He majored in biology with the goal of becoming a dentist. While an undergrad he was approached by the Phillies but told them he wanted to complete his studies. So serious about academics was Deron that he gave up his football scholarship and switched to financial aid. This gave him more latitude when it came to studying over football.
Deron played running back for the Scarlet Knights and also was the team’s punter. They went a perfect 11–0 in his freshman year. He set school records as a runner and punter as a junior. As a senior, he was named team MVP. Rutgers went 36–9 during Deron’s four varsity seasons.
Although he was too slow to project as a first-string running back, Deron decided to give pro football a try. He went undrafted in the spring of 1980 but was invited to try out for the Kansas Chiefs as a punter. The Chiefs had on their coaching staff Ted Cottrell, who had coached at Rutgers. When Deron did not make the club as a punter, Cottrell lobbied for him to stay on the team as a safety. He knew how smart Deron was, and believed he could make it there as a pro. It took several years for him to improve his size and speed, but when he did he became an impact player.
Deron made the Pro Bowl at free safety each year from 1984 to 1988. He had 7 interceptions in four different seasons and 9 in 1986. In a 1984 game he tied an NFL mark with four interceptions. The Chiefs made the playoffs in 1986, 1990 and 1991. In the 1991 postseason, Deron picked off two passes in a win over the Raiders and another in a loss to the Super Bowl-bound Bills. He finished his career in 1991 with an even 50 regular-season INTs. He was an All-Pro in 1984, 1986 and 1988. In 1988, Deron won the NFL’s Whizzer White Award for his contributions to the community, team and country.
After football, Deron bought a controlling share in the local Anheuser-Busch distributor and purchased a car dealership. He also got involved in local politics. In 1994, Deron became part of the ownership group of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. It marked the first time an African American had participated in the ownership of an NFL franchise.