April 21, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Whether he was jumping an out cut -- breaking on the ball in quest of an interception -- or just clapping his hands and bouncing around between snaps, Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton was among the most animated players during Saturday's spring game at Camp Randall Stadium.
There was no mistaking his "SFS'' in the secondary.
"He brings some of that South Florida Swagger,'' said safety Dez Southward.
Given that Southward is a senior from Sunrise, Fla., he knows the true meaning of that "SFS'' acronym, especially since he's a product of St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a national heavyweight. Aquinas is located in Fort Lauderdale, which just happens to be Shelton's home mailing address.
"If you look at my high school highlight tape,'' said Shelton, who attended Plantation High School in Broward County, "I've always played with that much excitement and I'm going to continue to play with it as long as it's cool with the coaches here.''
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen doesn't appear to have any problems with it. "Sojourn was good today,'' Andersen said after Saturday's scrimmage, the 15th practice of the spring. "He got his hands on two or three balls ... He's playing very well. I'm happy where he is.''
On and off the field, Andersen has been pleased by the way Shelton has executed the transition from high school -- he was a mid-term graduate -- to a first semester college course load of academics and athletics. "His life flipped upside down,'' Andersen said, "and he's handled it very well.''
Shelton is scheduled to return to Florida on May 18, the date of his high school prom. "But I don't think that I will make it back in time,'' he said. "I understood from the beginning that there would be some things I would risk missing to come here early and be successful.''
When he arrived on the Madison campus, the 5-foot-9 Shelton weighed about a buck-fifty. Over the last four months, he has packed on 15 pounds with the hope of getting up to 170 or 175 by next fall. "My coaches have been trying to slow me down from gaining so much weight at one time,'' he said.
On the other hand, Southward feels that weight gain is critical to the development and the ultimate success of any defensive back, particularly when challenged by Big Ten tailbacks, most of whom are well over 200 pounds -- Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell was 237 -- and can run with DBs.
"As everyone can see with Sojourn, he can cover; he can move his feet, he has pretty good reaction speed and he's impressive from that standpoint,'' Southward said. "But he's such a small guy, really small. The more weight he puts on, the better of a tackler he will be.''
Southward noted that another Fort Lauderdale-bred cornerback Hugs Etienne, who was a mid-term high school grad last spring, had the same weighty issues. "Hugs has gotten a lot bigger and his tackling has improved,'' he said before reiterating, "Sojourn is a pretty good cover corner already.''
The intangibles are important to Southward, too.
"Sojourn is just one of those players that you really would like to see succeed because he's such a really good kid off the field,'' said Southward, one of the veterans held out of Saturday's scrimmage. "He listens, he learns and he respects -- he respects the game and he respects older players.
"He has had a pretty good approach to things (this spring). He's learning from the older guys and the coaches and you can rally tell that he's taking what everyone has to say to heart. You can't ask for anything more from a guy who's not even a (college) freshman yet.''
Shelton is definitely respectful of his elders, namely a team leader like Southward. "He has been in the big situations and he knows what to expect,'' said Shelton. "I want to be great, so any time that I can get a chance to talk to him, we talk football. He's helped me in so many ways.''
One of Shelton's earliest mentors was Terrell Buckley, a former No. 1 draft choice of the Green Bay Packers (fifth overall in 1992) and All-American at Florida State. Shelton came under Buckley's wing at some summer camps in Tallahassee. "T-Buck has definitely influenced me,'' he said.
It helps explain why Shelton plays with so much enthusiasm and flair. "That's just something I've always had in me,'' he said. "I'm a confident person and I'm confident in my game.''
SFS? South Florida Swagger? "Yes, sir,'' Shelton said. "That's what everybody calls it.''
Shelton has been emerging as the No. 3 cornerback behind junior Peniel Jean and sophomore Darius Hillary. Both are making the conversion from nickel back. "The corners as a whole have really progressed,'' Andersen said. "They've gotten better every single day.''
Shelton just wants to get on the field, even if it's returning kicks. "Everything from Day One has been a learning experience and I'm going to continue to learn,'' he said. "At the same time, I understand I have to get out of that learning role and find a role where I can play and impact the team.''
Throughout the spring, he has been absorbing what he can from Jean, Hillary and Southward. "I'm trying to learn from those guys because they've been in the fire before, they've been in the big games,'' said Shelton, adding without sounding brash, "I expect to be in the fire this fall.''
Shelton's showing in Saturday's spring game was a first step towards realizing that goal. "My confidence level definitely went back up,'' Shelton said. "As a corner, you definitely have to have that. With that confidence you're not thinking so much and you're just going out there and making plays.''