MADISON -- Top-end talent has been few and far between at the cornerback for Wisconsin, but the Badgers now have same on their hands with Sojourn Shelton. The group as a whole is also impressive, despite losing safety Dezmen Southward to the NFL Draft. Shelton led the team in interceptions with four, the most ever by a true UW freshman and third-most of any freshman in college football.
Redshirt junior Darius Hillary started all 13 games last season. Redshirt junior Devin Gaulden played in six games in 2011, but an ACL injury limited him to four games in 2012 and kept him out all of last year. Redshirt junior Terrance Floyd and junior T.J. Reynard are coming off seasons in which they earned their first letters. Plus, the position boasts two new freshmen, three-star recruits Derrick Tindal and three-star recruit D'Cota Dixon. Altogether, Hilary's experience is a plus, while Shelton's talent reigns supreme.
Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Shelton was witness to NFL talent at Plantation High School and throughout the surrounding area. Shelton remembered watching players like Booker T. Washington alum Brandon Harris, who attended Miami and is in his fourth season in the NFL; Plantation High School alum Brandon McGee, who also played with the Hurricanes and is in his second season; and Plantation High School alum Josh Robinson, who played at Central Florida and is in his third season.
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Having a breakout freshman year is one thing. Building off of it in an expanded role as a sophomore is entirely different.
As a senior in high school, Shelton registered an interception, 16 pass breakups and 22 tackles, good enough for a spot on South Florida Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald's first-team all-county team. Once a Florida State commit, Shelton ultimately decided on Wisconsin and showed flashes of being a potential NFL cornerback this past season. Like he did with his predecessors, the youngsters from Fort Lauderdale are now looking up to the 5'9 cornerback.
"It's just how people from South Florida are," Shelton said at Wisconsin's media day on Friday. "I truly do love my city and everyone back there. To hear that, it's cool.
"It's definitely possible [to get to the NFL]. You can't let nobody tell you that you can't do this. When you do pick a school, going there and understand that the sky's the limit. You control your destiny. Learn as fast as you can."
Shelton's destiny came to a stark realization this spring. During the fourth practice of the March session, head coach Gary Andersen felt Shelton -- who acknowledged that he had a fever -- wasn't giving it his all and let Shelton know about it. He didn't get up in his face and get boisterous; he simply sat down with Shelton and said what needed to be said about the situation.
"Not that I saved the day, but a lot of times I overreact, and I'm an ovverreactor in a lot of different ways," Andersen said.. "But I'd rather overreact than miss something. I think we can do that more now they know my personality. A year ago they might have like, 'Coach, we'll be all right.' But they know who I am now."
And Shelton understood the message his head coach was trying to get across to him -- he had big expectations for the cornerback as he heads into his sophomore season, and Shelton wasn't meeting them. Most importantly, though, Shelton took away from it a far greater lesson when he went back to his Florida home during spring break: adjusting his own expectations.
"As a player, it's not good when your coach has higher expectations than you," Shelton said. "Looking at the mirror of himself and just try to figure out what I could do to get better. I love coach Andersen for that; that's the type of coach you want to play for, someone that can be upfront with you and tell you his opinion."
Shelton will get plenty of opportunities to prove to his coach -- and the whole country, for that matter -- that he is giving 100 percent on every play over the course of the 2014 season. Bowling Green wide receiver Ronnie Moore is a speedster, who had seven touchdowns last year as a true freshman. Nebraska's Kenny Bell is a force to be reckoned with. along with Maryland's Stefon Diggs.
Yet, Shelton isn't licking his chops just yet. At least not for those matchups.
"Those guys are up there, and before I came to college, they were both doing pretty well," Shelton said. "When that time comes around, we'll handle that. But right now, the focus is on Aug. 30, LSU, and I'm just excited to play in that game. That's a really big game to play in."