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Eric Peterson, Published April 15 2012

Teaching speed: MSUM assistant taking Dragons runners to new heights


Rahn Sheffield has trained former and current NFL players, ranging from Ronnie Harmon to Cam Newton, and now he’s trying to build better Dragons.

Sheffield is in his first year as an assistant track coach at Minnesota State Moorhead, but he’s far from a rookie. Sheffield was a head track coach at San Diego State for nearly two decades before he retired in 2008.

Sheffield has coached many world class track athletes, including his sister, LaTanya Sheffield, who at one time was the American record holder in the 400-meter hurdles. LaTanya made the 400 hurdles finals at the 1988 Olympics in South Korea.

Sheffield said he decided to join the Dragons staff because of a longtime friendship with MSUM head coach Keith Barnier.

“I begged him to come,” Barnier said. “I felt my team deserved the best. I told him that he would appreciate these athletes and he’s having a blast.”

Sitting in the office he shares with Barnier at MSUM, Sheffield paused to take note of the framed photos of past teams that have won conference titles for the Dragons. The men’s team won Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference indoor and outdoor titles in 2011.

“You look around you and you look around the walls and you realize they have been winning way before I even got here,” Sheffield said. “There are a lot of athletes here who are dying to get out. And when I say ‘out’ I’m saying to take their ability to the next level. There is some pride here.”

Sheffield made a strong impression starting with his first meeting with the athletes. Dragons senior Uchenna Ogbonnaya, a sprinter, remembers the inspirational talk Sheffield gave on the first day of practice.

“He can captivate an audience,” Ogbonnaya said. “When he started talking, it was like instant silence. We left the room and everyone was like, ‘Wow. I’m ready to go run.’”

Sheffield said he believes in structure when it comes to training. Ogbonnaya said Sheffield is a master at breaking down drills and explaining technique.

Before he took the job at MSUM, Sheffield started Sheffield Elite NFL Football Conditioning in 2009, operating that business the past few years.

Sheffield trained Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton for a couple months leading up to the 2011 NFL draft. Newton was the No. 1 overall pick in that draft.

“At the world class level, my job is to push them to the point to think of 100 reasons why they should quit. Their job is to think of that one reason to why not,” Sheffield said.

“Cam Newton is running around like a kid right now, like he’s playing in college. In the second half of games, he’s having fun. That’s when I know that my job is done.”

Sheffield has trained NFL prospects and players since the mid-1980s starting with Harmon, a running back who played college football at Iowa. Sheffield has also trained Major League Baseball players and worked with former professional boxer Oscar De La Hoya.

“If it’s good enough for those guys, it’s amazing for us,” Ogbonnaya said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com