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Sac State linebacker to swap football for firefighting
This time next year Jeff Badger will likely be in a firefighting academy, tackling drills much different than he’s been accustomed to as a four-year football player for Sacramento State.
The middle linebacker will graduate in the spring with a degree in sociology. Badger has no dreams of professional football.
He’s out to make the best of his last season and perhaps lead his team to the playoffs for the first time since he arrived at Sac State four years ago as an accomplished high school player, though admittedly undersized and overlooked.
“I’m not the tallest player, and I’m not the prototypical linebacker size, I know that,” Badger said. “It was pretty much Sac State and Air Force that recruited me.”
Badger, 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, said he chose Sac State for its proximity to his hometown of Windsor, where he led Santa Rosa’s Cardinal Newman to the CIF Division III state championship game.
As a senior, Badger was first team all-state in Division III at linebacker, Northern California Division III Player of the Year, North Bay Regional Player of the Year, All-Metro linebacker by the San Francisco Chronicle and co-MVP of the North Bay League.
As a running back, Badger rushed for 1,486 yards on 146 carries and scored 13 touchdowns. He also caught 32 passes for 418 yards and two touchdowns He said he never really considered Air Force, which requires a five-year commitment after college.
“Air Force recruited me to be a fullback,” Badger said. “My heart has always been more on defense, and it was appealing that Sac State wanted me as a linebacker.”
Badger, who has started every game for the Hornets since the 2010 season, is third in tackles this season with 55, behind only linebacker Todd Davis (67) and safety Ryan McMahon (63). Badger also has two interceptions. He received his first Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week award two weeks ago after recording 12 tackles, including five unassisted, in a 27-22 victory on the road at Southern Utah. He also had a sack and clinched the win with an interception in the final minutes.
“We really like the way Jeff is playing,” Hornets coach Marshall Sperbeck said. “He’s a hard-nosed kid that loves the game. His first year he came in and played running back for us. He’s a good athlete and has really taken on a good leadership role on our team, and that’s probably one of the things we’ve benefited most from Jeff.”
Badger likens his role to that of a quarterback on the defense. He makes the calls for the defense, makes sure the defensive ends are lined up properly and helps the defensive backs make their calls in the backfield.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” Badger said. “But it’s also a lot of fun.”
Badger said he’s looking forward to playing Football Championship Subdivision No. 1 Eastern Washington today in Cheney, and he said a victory over the Eagles would be worth more than this season’s win at Colorado.
“It would prove we can play with anyone in the country,” Badger said. “Pacific-12 Conference (Colorado), No. 1 in the nation. It doesn’t matter.”
Badger is looking forward to his next career, too. He said he sees a lot of similarities between playing defense on the football field and fighting fires.
“Going into a game or a fire, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Badger, who’s father, Lance, is a sergeant with the Santa Rosa Police Department. “But if you work as a team, you’ll make the other team punt or you’ll put the fire out.
“I think I’ll be good at it.”
By Mark Billingsley, The Sacramento Bee