BadgerNation: What strides have you made since the offseason and where you feel you are at with two years of experience now under your belt?
Sojourn Shelton: I think so far through the offseason and spring ball that I have been playing really well. I have seen improvements in a lot of things that I felt I was lacking last year that I need to work on. With the new coaching staff, Coach Daronte Jones has been a supportive coach. He’s a coach who likes to get into the mix, talk trash with us as well, and he’s a cool coach to play for. He’s a confident coach and a confident guy. Overall as a secondary, his confidence that he’s bringing makes us overall play confident as a group.
BN: Grade him as a trash talker.
SS: I’d have to put him up there. I would say either a nine or a 10. He’s up there, and I love that about him. He’s bringing that to the group. You can see us now and then when we make a play that we’ll talk trash to those guys. It’s fun and really competitive.
BN: What are some of the things he says to needle you guys and get you going?
SS: He’s not saying anything negative if we don’t make a play, it’s little things here and there that we might do wrong. He coaches us up, tells us we’ll make the next one, put it behind you and just keep playing. It’s about playing confident in yourself, believing in yourself and making a play next time.
BN: You mentioned that he’s helped you work on some of the shortcomings that you had last year. When you evaluate your film and your performance, where are the areas you felt you needed to step up?
SS: Confidence. Just confidence. Being the confident person that I am, I think over the first couple of weeks of the season that I was feeling the pressure that I had to perform, just for all the hype coming into the season. He taught me to forget about all that and just play football and understand that I am a special football player who can do special things. I just have to stick to what I’ve been doing and play football. So far I feel that I’m getting back to being that confident player that I am. If I get beat, I move on to the next play, don’t care what people say and continue to play hard and aggressive.
BN: Considering how well you played your true freshman year and that your confidence grew throughout that season, are you surprised that you lost some of that confidence last season?
SS: it is surprising. I have pretty much never hit a wall when it came to football until last year. That’s perfectly fine. I think you have to go through those growing pains to find yourself and keep that motivation. I went through it and I’m ready to get back to being that Sojourn I know I can be.
BN: Coach Dave Aranda said the big emphasis this season is creating turnovers. No cornerback has an interception last season. What do you and Darius Hillary need to improve on to get those numbers higher?
SS: Honestly, between me and D-Hill looking back at last year, the biggest thing we need to focus on is just finishing. Last year I had numerous plays that I could remember in my head where I was there and didn’t catch the ball: Iowa didn’t catch it, Northwestern didn’t catch it and other opportunities. For me and D-Hill, I can’t speak for the opportunities he had, we just have to finish. One thing about us is we’ll always be in position. Sometimes we might get beat, but we’ll be in position to make plays on the ball. We just have to work on finishing and catching the ball.
BN: How much does it help having Aranda back for this season and building upon what this group has started over the past two years?
SS: It’s great to have Coach Aranda back. Everyone knows him as the d-coordinator who is the mad scientist who has all these things drawn up. I think for us personally we’ve got so comfortable with him and how he likes things and likes doing things. We know as a defense under him we can be very successful. Last year we were successful. There were games here and there where we slipped up, and we fixed those corrections. I think right now the defense is all about building together, being on the same page, us playing together and building confidence in each other as we get ready for the summer, fall camp and whatever comes after that.
BN: I know adding weight was the big thing you needed to do when you came here and you’ve put on a lot of weight over your two-plus years here. Are you happy with where you’re at or are you still trying to put more weight on?
SS: I’m fine with where I am at. I’m excited with Coach (Ross) Kolodziej bringing in a whole new style. I think it’s helped out a lot. A lot of guys, including myself, have put their numbers way up. That’s all you can ask. You don’t have to be the biggest guy. You have to have confidence, play your position, know your role and just continue to play and have fun.
BN: A lot of experienced players return in the secondary this season. There has to be a lot of confidence in your meeting room considering what this group has been through.
SS: We’re definitely focused. I think during spring as a secondary we played well. Here and there you might have some bumps with things that just happen in football, but our confidence is there and our trust is there. I think that’s one thing in the secondary that everyone has to have in each other is trusting each other. Overall just keep improving. Having all those guys there - D-Hill, (Michael) Caputo, Lubern (Figaro) and Tanner (McEvoy) back full time – is a big game changer as a secondary. We’re all game changers. We just have to improve together and see where we fall.