Prep Signing: A.L. Brown’s Sheldon Saddler

KANNAPOLIS — A.L. Brown graduate Sheldon Saddler played in the 2010 Shrine Bowl, which means he was one of the North Carolina guys trying to block Jadeveon Clowney, the nation’s best high school player.

Saddler obviously remembers Clowney, but he doesn’t have nightmares about that 42-10 loss.

“Clowney was a good football player, but South Carolina had a whole lot of good football players,” Saddler said. “What I remember most about the Shrine Bowl was the practices leading up to the game. I was working for a week against guys like (UNC’s) Shawn Underwood and (Clemson’s) Stephone Anthony, and they were good players too.”

Saddler, who has grown to 6-foot-2 and weighs 290 pounds, played guard and tackle for the Wonders. After playing two seasons for high-scoring Long Beach City College in southern California, he fielded 24 college offers from a wide range of four-year schools — everything from D-I to NAIA.

FCS schools such as Howard, Norfolk State, Sacramento State and Cal Poly made offers.

Saddler committed to Division II Shaw and signed with the Raleigh-based Bears on Feb. 22. He’s expected to compete for a starting guard position at the CIAA school.

Mars Hill and Johnson C. Smith were Saddler’s other finalists. He listed Livingstone, Wingate and UNC Pembroke among the D-II schools that offered scholarships or packages.

“There were a lot of good options for me,” Saddler said. “Shaw was one of the schools that offered a full ride, and Shaw was the best fit as far as having my major (business), having a winning football program (6-4) and being near home. Shaw also is a place where I’ll have a chance to continue in Christian ministry, and that’s important to me.”

Saddler is very religious, and while he isn’t pushy about it, he is quick to say that the church “turned his life around” while he was in California.

Not that Saddler was ever a bad person. His mother raised him to be respectful and responsible, and he still yes-sirs people older than him.

His only flaw at A.L. Brown was he got a late start academically. He dug a hole as a freshman and sophomore. By his junior year, when it was apparent football could be his ticket to a college education, he tried hard to dig himself out of that hole.

“He’d gotten behind the 8-ball academically, but his junior and senior years he was a pretty good student,” A.L. Brown offensive line coach Todd Hagler said. “He improved his grades a lot, but those early years hurt him recruiting-wise.”

Height also hurt Saddler some. The D-Is are looking for 6-5 offensive linemen, and Saddler was 6-1 in his high school days.

Still, he had few equals on prep football fields.

“He was a leader in the best kind of way and he just dominated opponents,” Hagler said. “Sheldon had more than 100 knockdowns one year, and we grade ‘em tough. We don’t give out a knockdown just because a kid fell down. I remember a kid speed-rushing him his junior year when he was pass-blocking, and he just punched the guy and pancaked him. He was a get-after-your-butt kind of player, and you could always look at the kid who had to play against him, and by the fourth quarter, that kid would be ready for the game to be over.”

Saddler had above-average speed and agility for such a big man, and he was he was enormously strong.

“The strongest kid I’ve ever coached,” Hagler said. “He was benching 400 pounds and squatting 600 in high school.”

Hagler recalls that one season the Wonders had Tennessee track thrower Tavis Bailey and Saddler working in tandem on a physical offensive line.

“We were kind of run-heavy to their side of the field,” Hagler said with a laugh. “Everyone knew that, but there still wasn’t a lot they could do to stop us. Another year, we had Sheldon and Steven Jackson, and it was the same thing.”

Saddler gives Hagler a lot of the credit for the player — and the man — he’s become.

“Coach Hagler is the best coach I’ve had, definitely my all-time favorite coach,” Saddler said. “He trained me. He built me. He’s the guy I still look up to, and he’s responsible for my character in a lot of ways. He taught me techique and he taught me how to always keep my composure.”

Saddler says playing football 3,000 miles from home the last two seasons wasn’t a difficult adjustment.

“On the field, we did a lot of the same things we did at Brown,” he said. “Off the field, it was fine. There was plenty to do. We would go to Long Beach or L.A. and go to the arcades or movies or shows. And there were always activities going on with my church. California was a great experience.”

Saddler, who is working at the Shoe Show Warehouse in Concord until he reports to Shaw, maintained his ties with A.L. Brown while he was in California.

“I remember when he brought by the highlight tape from his first year in California,” Hagler said. “It looked like he was doing the same things to those guys that he was doing to guys in high school. He should be a good player for Shaw. All the coaches here are very proud of him.”

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