- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

Sam Shade got serious about his career the summer before his third season. The strong safety, then playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, had started just two games in two years. His contract was entering its last season, and he was hearing the whispers.

"My first couple years, there was a lot I took for granted," Shade recalled yesterday. "The attention just wasn't there; the urgency wasn't there… . Somewhere between minicamp and training camp [before my third season], I made up my mind that I was going to do everything I could do to be the best player I could be."

The dedication Shade adopted that summer is paying dividends now. In addition to being the Washington Redskins' leading returning tackler (166) from 1999, Shade is poised to become a Pro Bowl performer. He added some of his position's finer tactics to his already hard-hitting repertoire.

"He has the talent, the size, the speed and the intellect," Redskins defensive backs coach Ron Meeks said. "And he understands the urgency of getting it done. He knows that the time is now, not later."

That realization for Shade, now 27 and entering his sixth season, coincided with the reconstruction of the Bengals' coaching staff, which included Meeks' departure to Atlanta following the 1996 season. Theretofore "a talented athlete who lost a little confidence," Meeks said, Shade capitalized on his second chance to make a first impression.

"I became a student of the game," Shade said. "I just pushed myself to be the best I could be. I decided that if they were going to get rid of me, it wasn't going to be because I didn't do the best I could do."

Meeks and Shade met up in 1997, after Shade had climbed into the Bengals' starting lineup. Meeks told Shade how impressed he was with his newfound maturity.

"He told me, 'That's what I knew you could do all the time,' " Shade said.

But Meeks knew Shade could do more. So when the two were reunited this offseason, Meeks immediately laid out a plan to help Shade reach the next level.

"You don't want to be a one-dimensional player," Meeks said. "I'd like to see him productive besides just tackling. I'd like to see him strip the ball, get some interceptions. Then his game would escalate to where people would see him as one of the best at his position."

For now, Shade remains one of the Redskins' lowest-profile defenders. He is a reliable performer whose quiet demeanor causes him to get overshadowed in a larger-than-life locker room that includes Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and LaVar Arrington.

Shade was drafted lower (102nd overall in 1995) than all but one fellow starter, weakside linebacker Shawn Barber (113th in 1998). The Redskins' defense now includes 10 former first-round picks, including six top-seven selections and two former No. 1s.

But Shade is more worried about helping out on special teams than gaining recognition.

"I'm not one of the guys that's talked about in the papers, but that's cool with me," said Shade, who as a sophomore was a member of Alabama's 1992 national title team. "I've never been one to grab for the limelight… . My main concern is just being the best ballplayer I can be."

Rather than celebrity, Shade's motivation comes from a no-regrets mentality.

"I try to play each game like it's my last," Shade said. "I've seen guys not get it done and then not get another chance. When I leave this game I don't want to have any regrets."

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