Feb. 10, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- What's in a name? Ask Wisconsin freshman Keelon Brookins. That is KEY-lynn, not KEY-lon.
"I can see how you can misprounce it,'' Brookins said. "It looks like KEY-lon.''
He can live with either.
"It doesn't really matter,'' he said. "That's just for when you're trying to get my attention.''
But it goes beyond simple name recognition, especially when you address him as KEY-lynn.
"It's who I am,'' he said.
What's in a name? Ask Wisconsin freshman Sojourn Shelton. That is unique, not common.
"I was named after my father,'' he said. "In the Bible, it means temporary state.''
At first, he had trouble embracing it.
"As a kid, I really didn't like it because nobody could pronounce it,'' he said.
But he warmed to it.
"It's something I've grown to like over the years,'' he said. "I love it now.''
ou wouldn't expect all of their older Wisconsin teammates to know their names. Not yet anyway. Brookins and Shelton haven't been on campus that long. Both enrolled for the second semester after graduating from high school early. But they've already been welcomed to the family.
"The older players have helped us out with a lot of stuff,'' Brookins said. "We go to dinner with them, we play Madden against them. We do a lot of team bonding activities. We make new people mistakes sometimes, especially me. But they've helped us get through a lot.
"They'll say, `If you need anything, I'm here for you.' It's really a family.''
Shelton has experienced a similar reception from the upperclassmen. "I love everybody,'' he said. "I already consider Melvin Gordon as a brother; Jared Abbrederis, too. We're all close. I love it here. It does really feel like a family. Every time I see a player, it's, `What's up, Sojourn? You good?'''
There are many good things about jump-starting their college education, on and off the field.
"It's a big advantage,'' said UW's first-year head coach Gary Andersen. "They're high school kids adjusting very well, they have a smile on their face. I try to make sure I see them every single day and make sure the assistant coaches are around them as much as possible.''
Although they will be getting a head start on their freshman teammates, Andersen pointed out, "It's very different being the two new guys versus the 17 or 18 new guys that walk in together.''
But he added, "They're going to class, and having the study halls, the mentors, the tutors; they've lived that for a semester, and that's a tremendous advantage come fall.''
helton competed against "A'' list receivers when he played for the South Florida Express, a seven-on-seven team that draws the best of the best from Broward and Dade counties in Florida.
Among his early teammates was Amari Cooper, now a stud in the SEC with Alabama.
"That really built my confidence to where I am now,'' Shelton said of the high level competition. "Just believing whoever you stick in front of me, I can cover them.''
Shelton learned at a young age not to put much stock in 40-yard speed.
"I know everybody is so judgmental on your 40 times,'' he said. "As a cornerback, never on the field are you in that position (to sprint 40). You start off with the receiver in front of you.
"Everything in those first five yards is very vital and important. If a receiver does get past you then your closing speed is even more important. That's one thing I have.
"I can definitely recover, if I do get beat. You really do need closing speed, which I call recovery speed. It's instincts and judging where he's going. You don't want to run to where the receiver is at.
"You want to run to where he's going so you can meet him and make a play on the ball. I'm a very athletic person and I'm a ball hawk. That was given to me as a child. I have a knack for the ball.''
espite living in the Twin Cities -- St. Paul, Minn. -- Brookins isn't a Vikings fan. Nothing personal. He moved to the area when he was 6 from Texarkana, Texas. "I'm not a big NFL guy,'' he said.
He likes watching certain players. "But my biggest inspiration is my two little brothers,'' he said. "They look up to me and I want to make it so they know they can make it at anything they try to do.
"There may be something that may hold you back in life. But you can still overcome that and reach your goals and dreams.
"My inspiration comes from something that doesn't have to do with football. It comes from God and the people around me.''
He cited the influence of his parents, Tyrone and Dorene Brookins. Dr. Brookins, a University of Minnesota grad, is the principal of the Benjamin E. Mays International Magnet School in St. Paul.
"I want to be a principal,'' said Keelon Brookins. "So many kids will come up to my dad and tell him how he changed their life and thank him. That inspires me. I want to touch people's lives like him.''
ince getting to Madison, Shelton has been trying to put on weight and Brookins has been attempting to get out from under the weight of a second ACL surgery in as many years.
Both are confident in what they can accomplish, too, after interesting journeys. Shelton had verbally committed to Florida State and Brookins to Minnesota before each had a change of heart.
Most telling was that Shelton and Brookins reaffirmed their commitment to the Badgers after head coach Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas and most of his assistants left for other destinations.
The irony? Shelton de-committed from Florida State because he was seeking more stability after some coaches went to other programs, notably Terrell Buckley, a grad assistant with the Seminoles.
"When they made all the changes here (Wisconsin), it was like, `Wow' -- I just got out from the Florida State situation because of the coaching changes,'' Shelton said. "It hit me blindside.
"But throughout the process, I just stayed patient. I didn't jump the gun with anything. I just wanted to wait and see who the new head coach was going to be and give him a shot.
"After coach (Gary) Andersen gave me a call, I honestly felt more comfortable with him than Coach B (Bielema). And I liked Coach B a lot. But I loved talking with coach Andersen.
"It was just the expectations that he had for his players. You want to play for a coach like him, a coach who expects a lot out of you and will push you hard and try to bring the best out of you.
"When everything first happened, it was a shock. But this where I wanted to be.''
Shelton, who hails from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., still looks up to Buckley, the former No. 1 draft choice of the Green Bay Packers. Buckley is now on Terry Bowden's coaching staff at Akron.
"The first time I went to the Florida State camp, T-Buck (Buckley) spotted me and took my number and I started communicating with him then,'' said Shelton. "We've had a real close bond.
"My body frame kind of resembled his. If I stood next to him, he might be an inch taller. But I have really long arms and he loved my techniques and competitiveness. He's been a big inspiration.''
The 5-10, 180-pound Buckley, a veteran of 14 pro seasons, is much bigger than the 5-9, 158-pound Shelton. But he has already put on eight pounds since arriving on the UW campus.
"I see myself going into the fall at 170,'' Shelton said. "I know that I can put the weight on. My grandfather has a big frame. My dad (who lives in Iowa) is short but he also has a big frame.''
Shelton went to the same Florida high school -- Plantation -- that sent linebacker Ryan Shazier to Ohio State. The strength gains made by Shazier, a sophomore, made an impression on Shelton.
So much so that Shelton accelerated his timetable for getting to college. "I wanted to get there early,'' he said, "and get acclimated and get used to the college life and get in the weight room.''
It hasn't hurt that Shelton and Brookins are going through the same transition. "We feed off each other,'' said Brookins. "We help each other out a lot.''
Brookins played in just one game during his junior year at Tartan High School after injuring his left knee. He came back even stronger and faster -- winning the 200 meters in the Class 2A state meet.
But then, he did it again. Only this time he blew out the ACL in his right knee as a senior.
"Mentally, yes it's easier (the second time),'' he said.
Plus, there are advantages to being where he is today.
"The Wisconsin rehab people have pushed me harder,'' he said. "Knowing I came back strong from the first one, with their help and my mindset, I know I can come back even stronger from this one.
"I absolutely believe I can be a better player.''
Brookins was the first verbal commitment in Minnesota's 2013 recruiting class. Beyond the Gophers, he was also hearing from Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and Nebraska, among others.
"Wisconsin then came back into the picture,'' he said. "They had always been in the picture, but they came back stronger. I remember going to the Nebraska game when they had Russell (Wilson).
"I just loved the atmosphere. I went back home and talked to the people who supported me. One day it just hit me: you're going to go to Wisconsin.
"I had to man-up and tell them (the Gophers). It was kind of tough. But I'm going to a place where I want to be. They want me and I know we can jell together.''
Brookins is grateful that the Badgers never flinched on their commitment after the second knee injury. In return, he never considered going anyplace else after the coaching shuffle in January.
"I came to Wisconsin for the school, not just football,'' said Brookins, who heard what he wanted to hear out of Andersen. "He loves his players, he's school first, and he's a winner.''