Sojourn Shelton started 12 of 13 games at cornerback for the Badgers last season and finished with 36 tackles, 11 pass deflections and four interceptions, which was nearly half the entire team's total in 2013.
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports
MADISON, Wis. — Maybe it was the fever. Maybe it was complacency. Or perhaps it was a mixture of both.
Whatever the case, Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton wasn’t producing at an acceptable level at the midway point of Badgers spring practices a few weeks ago. So head coach Gary Andersen and cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland decided to let him know about it.
"They expressed how they felt," Shelton said after the team’s spring game. "Not anything bad. It was just they want to see more out of me. I think that’s what the whole thing was. I felt like when your coaches want to see more out of you, at first I was like, ‘Man they’re being extremely hard on me.’ But after sitting down with (Andersen) and coach Strick, I see what it is. They just want me to be a great player, and they see that I can be great. I just wasn’t making the plays that I should have been making."
Shelton’s fever eventually broke over spring break, and he was back to his normal playmaking self when practices resumed. But the message was clear to Shelton. Just because you are a starter at Wisconsin doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard anymore.
"Honestly, with the coaches, I think every player understands that," Shelton said. "You truly donât have a spot locked down. The best 11 players are going to play out there."
Shelton is coming off a tremendous freshman season in which he started 12 of 13 games at cornerback for the Badgers. He finished the season with 36 tackles, 11 pass deflections and four interceptions, which was nearly half the entire team’s total in 2013. No other player recorded more than one interception. For his efforts, Shelton earned all-Big Ten honorable mention from the media.
Even after producing at such a high level, Shelton recognizes there is constantly room to improve. One area he singled out was increasing his strength. At 5-foot-9, it will be more difficult to keep enough weight on his frame. Shelton said he played last season at 172 pounds, is up to 175 and hopes to reach 180 by the start of next season.
"And I know I’ll get there with the coaching staff and the strength staff that we have," he said. "So I feel stronger. Honestly, I feel faster. I think it’ll be another special season for all of us."
Shelton’s reliability will be crucial to the back end of Wisconsin’s defense next season. He’ll pair with Darius Hillary to form an experienced cornerbacks duo, and Devin Gaulden — who emerged as the surprise of spring camp — has worked his way into the third cornerback spot.
The key for Shelton, he said, was to avoid taking any more steps backward.
"Everybody knows I’m a pretty confident person," Shelton said. "I want to go in the right direction. I think at the position that we play, you do have to be extremely confident. I just want to continue to make plays. Overall, I think my confidence has gone up. Just a little bit.
"But the summertime, I think that’s when everything pieces together to head on into the season. Just being around the guys and having fun and just trying to make plays."