Darian Collins wasn’t fully committed to playing football, but Brett Sheldon was fully committed to making Collins fully committed.
“We had summer workouts that were 7:30 in the morning where we’d go throw in the gym,” Collins said. “I told coach Sheldon I would be there and he said if I wasn’t, he’d come to my house and wake me up.”
Collins wasn’t there.
Sure enough, Sheldon showed up to rouse an essential player in what has become a dynamic Lafayette Jeff offense.
Seven receiving touchdowns later, Collins can’t imagine where he’d be without Sheldon, his receivers coach and, more importantly, friend for life.
Sheldon has a birth defect, leaving him with little arms.
He never caught a pass during his football career but overcame physical challenges as a standout high school kicker at Fountain Central before playing collegiately.
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Three years ago, coach Brian Moore hired Sheldon as a special teams coordinator at Fountain Central. Sheldon absorbed as much information as he could, breaking down every detail. When Moore transitioned from running a Wing-T offense to a spread formation, he promoted Sheldon to receivers coach.
When Moore was hired as Lafayette Jeff’s coach in January, he brought Sheldon with him.
The first order of business: Find more athletes.
Collins was a target but so too was classmate Alex Albrecht, who with Collins and Dan Ricksy forms one of the state’s top receiving trios.
Albrecht had given up football after his freshman year to play soccer. He started receiving daily text messages from Sheldon.
Sometimes, they were as simple as good luck wishes in that day’s baseball game. Other days, it was a football play in which Albrecht would be essential in the development.
“Every single day I had a text from him. Every. Single. Day,” Albrecht said. “That really influenced me to come out for football.”
With 42 receptions, Albrecht trails only Ricksy in that category for the Bronchos.
Ricksy was originally scheduled to be the quarterback. Devon Colonis’ transfer from West Lafayette allowed the senior to move to receiver in a marriage that’s worked wonders for Ricksy and Colonis, the third-leading passer in the state in yards per game.
Ricksy has 13 touchdown catches and leads the area with 1,145 receiving yards on 70 receptions, headlining a group Sheldon believes is second to none in high school football.
“I think I am the luckiest receiver coach in Indiana to have the guys that I have,” Sheldon said.
Sheldon gathered a group of receivers, some experienced and others — like Collins and Albrecht — a bit raw but with speed to compensate.
This season the Bronchos have averaged 274.3 passing yards per game, ranking fifth in the state and first among Class 5A schools.
This was more than about football, though.
Sheldon saw characterizations of himself in his receivers. They were ornery. Each had faced his own share of adversity.
Sheldon wanted the group to know he was more than someone with whom to discuss route running or blocking techniques.
“I want them to know that life isn’t always perfect, and I don’t want to pretend that it is,” Sheldon said. “Just like me with my arms, each one of my guys has gone through something, some instance in their life where they’ve had to overcome it.
“They know they can come talk to me. Look at me. My life’s not perfect. That’s just how it is.”
There’ve been trips out to eat or car rides where football wasn’t even a topic of conversation.
“I love coach Sheldon,” Collins said. “He is there for me, anything I need. I can talk to him. I just feel comfortable talking to him about things. We’re really close.”
Last season, the Bronchos won one game. They enter Friday’s sectional contest against rival McCutcheon with a 7-2 record.
The bond that’s developed between the receivers coach and his players hasn’t been overlooked in why Jeff has turned the program around so quickly.
“You can’t get me to talk about that because I will get choked up,” Moore said. “It’s good stuff. Brett’s been above and beyond what I expected.”
Sheldon is approachable in a world where many times the coach’s way can be the only way.
Albrecht has no reservations telling Sheldon when he thinks he’s wrong. That creates dialogue and, oftentimes, a salvageable solution.
Each week, the kinks are worked out and the trust factor strengthens.
Although Sheldon says he can’t take credit for what Lafayette Jeff’s receivers have done this season, there are others who say he should receive most of the credit.
“When we score a touchdown, it’s because he saw something that the defense was doing that we could take advantage of and get the receiver the ball in open space to make a play and get into the end zone,” Ricksy said.
Sheldon recruited two of Lafayette Jeff’s best athletes who didn’t necessarily agree with his opinion that football was the greatest sport.
Collins has aspirations of playing college basketball and Albrecht is eyeing a spot on a college baseball roster.
Those sports will always be their first loves, but they’ll always remember the fall they strapped on helmets and shoulder pads and gave their all for coach Sheldon, who convinced them they wouldn’t regret a senior year on the football field.
“I am mad I didn’t play my sophomore and junior year, and we’re going to make the most out of this year,” Albrecht said. “Hopefully we can do something special.”
Little do they know, they already have.