MADISON, Wis. — Sojourn Shelton bundled up for his walk between campus buildings last week as temperatures dipped into single digits, flecks of snow falling around him. All the while, he couldn’t help but temporarily pine for the beaches and sunshine of his hometown.
That day back in Plantation, Fla., it was 79 degrees.
“I’m just trying to adjust to it,” said Shelton, a defensive back who has enrolled a semester early at the University of Wisconsin. “It is weird. I see people walking around in shorts and I’m just appalled they can do it. It is difficult right now. I’ve been telling my mom I wish she could mail the heat to me or something like that.”
Shelton hopes his adjustment to major college football goes more smoothly once he settles into campus life. He is one of just two freshmen, along with defensive back Keelon Brookins (St. Paul, Minn.) to enroll early in hopes of gaining a head start on other Badgers players from the Class of 2013.
Shelton’s first order of business? Putting on weight. And plenty of it.
According to Shelton, a speedy 5-foot-9 cover corner, he began the semester weighing just 152 pounds. If accurate, that would put him among the lightest players on the team — even kicker Jack Russell is listed at 162 pounds. Shelton said his goal was to reach a playing weight of 175 pounds, which is one of the biggest reasons he opted to leave high school early.
Shelton made the decision two years ago after his best friend, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, returned home from a semester in college and had packed on considerable muscle as part of the Buckeyes’ strength and conditioning program.
“He looked huge,” Shelton said. “He looked like a totally different person from when he left. From that moment, I went to my guidance counselor, and they worked with me and everything.”
That Shelton would venture as far away as Wisconsin comes as a surprise given that he initially committed to Florida State. But Shelton said he could sense members of the Seminoles’ coaching staff were looking to leave, and he de-committed in July.
Eventually, Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops left to become head coach at Kentucky. Shelton also had grown close with strength and conditioning coach Terrell Buckley, a former Florida State standout, and he left to accept a position as a cornerbacks coach with the University of Akron.
“Florida State growing up was my dream school,” Shelton said. “Everybody in my family was a huge Miami fan. I grew up craving the Florida State and Miami rivalry game, so it was a hard point in my life.
“I can remember sitting outside looking up at the stars like, ‘Wow, I just de-committed from my dream school.'”
During the recruiting process, Shelton maintained a close relationship with former Wisconsin co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge, an ace recruiter in Florida, who convinced Shelton to give the Badgers a try. Even though Partridge, six other assistant coaches and head coach Bret Bielema took jobs elsewhere this offseason, Shelton remained firm on his commitment. He’ll be one of 11 players from Florida on Wisconsin’s roster in the spring.
“I committed to Wisconsin for a reason,” Shelton said. “I love the place. I didn’t want to jump out of things. I’d already been through a commitment with Florida State. My whole thing was I jumped out of a commitment real fast.”
According to Shelton’s father, Sojourn Shelton Sr., the vibe at Wisconsin was different when the two visited for the team’s season opener against Northern Iowa.
“Yes, everybody left Wisconsin,” said Shelton Sr., who lives in the Quad Cities. “But when we came to Wisconsin, we loved the atmosphere. We couldn’t find one person that said anything bad about the program.
“When we went on campus, it really felt like it was family first. It wasn’t really about football. It was about making you a stronger individual.”
Shelton, a three-star recruit by Scout.com, chose Wisconsin over other offers from Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Central Florida, Wake Forest, West Virginia and Cincinnati.
Despite his diminutive stature, Shelton was a pest on the football field for opposing teams in high school. During his senior season, he returned three punts for touchdowns and recorded an interception, 16 pass breakups and 22 tackles. He was named first-team all-county by the South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald.
Shelton, a three-year starter, was so feared at cornerback that opponents threw in his direction just five times during Plantation High’s first four games last season, according to a Sun Sentinel article.
“He’s not the biggest, but he’s so technically sound that he really does make up for it,” Shelton Sr. said. “His closing speed is ridiculous. I would guess most parents would pump up or say good things about their kids. I even as a parent looked at Sojourn and was like, ‘Let me see, everybody is saying he’s a little bit different. Let me take off the parent goggles and let me look at him with a critical eye.’
“I would tell anybody to just watch him. The first couple games his sophomore year, a lot of schools in South Florida used to throw his way and they tried him. By the end of the season, nobody was throwing to his side.”
Shelton simply hopes he’ll be presented with an opportunity to earn the same level of respect in college, even if he may require a redshirt season to begin his career.
“I feel like one thing I can bring is, if you look at film, I’m a very good cover corner,” Shelton said. “I think you look back to the Rose Bowl when Wisconsin played Oregon or you look back to the Rose Bowl that they just played, coverage is important.
“Of course I’m small, but that’s what I came for, so I could put the weight on, get in the weight room and get started and try to get acclimated and compete for a job.”