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Where Are They Now?: Former Redskin and Current Samford Coach Sam Shade

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJune 8, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 10:  Strong safety Sam Shade #29 of the Washington Redskins sits on the bench during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 10, 2002  at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jaguars beat the Redskins 26-7. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Former Washington Redskins safety Sam Shade is now spending his days teaching the game's next batch of potential professional football players as the cornerbacks coach at Samford University. But if he himself could go back in time, he'd have chosen another path.

"I don't think I would have played," Shade told Bleacher Report this week. "I mean, I always knew that I could get hurt—break your leg or tear your knee up, that type of stuff—but when you start talking about having problems with your mind where you get dementia and you forget who people are and you start forgetting things and that type of stuff? I wouldn't have signed up for that."

Shade is one of about 2,000 former players suing the NFL. They claim that the league hid information regarding the connection between football-related head trauma and long-term brain damage. 

The hard-hitting safety spent eight years in the NFL—four with Cincinnati, four with Washington—and was a tackling machine. He led the Redskins in tackles twice and didn't miss a game between 1997 and 2001, amassing 370 solo tackles in that span, according to Pro Football Reference.

9 Sep 2001:  Tim Dwight #85 of the San Diego Chargers gets hit by Sam Shade #29 of the Washington Redskins during the game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Redskins 30-3.Mandatory Credit: Jeff Gross  /Allsport
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

"That's a lot of tackles and hits," he said. "I know it's different for some guys, but for me, I could have done other things. I played football, but football wasn't who I was. Football was what I chose to do for a small amount of time in my life."

Shade graduated second in his high school class and received academic scholarships at the University of Alabama. He was part of the Crimson Tide's 1992 national championship and went on to be selected by the Bengals in the fourth round of the 1995 draft. The rest is history, but Shade feels as though it was fate that landed him in the NFL.

"I didn't have to play football to support myself," said the 38-year-old Birmingham, Ala. native. "So that's why I say if I had known that, when I hit 45 or 50, because I played and the way I was asked to play it, I'd have problems with my mind, I'd forget who people are, then I wouldn't have played."

In addition to typical former-NFL-player headaches, Shade says his short-term memory is bad. He forgets stuff often and has to receive reminders from his wife, Jacquetta, "all the time." 

He fears for his future health, especially being a former safety. He mentions three former safeties—Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling and Andre Waters—who have committed suicide in recent years. 

"It scares me because I played safety," he said, "and I felt like I played the safety position the way that people wanted it played."

We mention that it's sort of strange that he's now spending his time helping young football players pursue a path that he now regrets having pursued, but Shade notes that things have changed dramatically "as far as the way that you tell guys to go make tackles." Plus, he points to strict protocols in regard to possible head injuries that weren't in place in his day.

Shade got into coaching by chance. Following his football career, he returned home to Birmingham with Jacquetta and began dabbling in real estate and insurance (he was a finance major at Alabama). A friend persuaded him to volunteer to help coach middle school football, which eventually led to high school and then to Samford in 2009.

"I never saw myself coaching, if you can believe that," he said. "I wasn't a guy that went to college and said, 'Hey, I'm gonna be a school teacher/football coach.'"

That's the chapter he's on now, though. In addition to being passionate about teaching football the right way, Shade values being a mentor.

"I just get a lot of satisfaction out of being a service to these kids," he says. "This is my calling. This is what God wants me to do, is coach kids, and it's not just about the football part." 

He's not worried about moving up coaching ladders. He's happy at home in Birmingham. A kid he coached the last three years, Corey White, became the highest draft pick in school history when the New Orleans Saints selected him in the fifth round in April.

Oh, and he's watching his Redskins from afar. 

"I'm excited about what's happened, bringing Robert Griffin in. I think that's gonna give us a dimension that we haven't had at the quarterback position since I can't recall."

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