Like many from the Vandalia area, native Andre Salmon was eager to watch the Super Bowl this year between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
Unlike most people from the area, Salmon received the opportunity to watch the game live at Met Life Stadium.
He attended the game as a guest of Broncos’ defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, a student he once mentored at Jefferson City High School.
Williams recorded two tackles in the NFL’s biggest game.
“I went to the Super Bowl and got to meet with the players,” Salmon added. “It was really a good thing.”
Though Salmon was proud of Williams’ success on the field, it was his pupil’s journey off the field that is dear to his heart.
A story about his journey mentioning Salmon throughout the article appeared on Yahoo sports just before the Super Bowl. Articles also appeared in the Denver Post after he was selected in the draft.
“Everything he’s done has been nothing but special,” Salmon said. “When you’re in the field of education, you get to see success in high school that is objective. What he’s got is taking life skills, taking a little adversity, and turning into something positive.”
Williams was kicked out of high school for poor attendance during his sophomore year.
With his fast food employment combined with an ever-changing home life, Williams was not making school a priority.
Salmon, who is still a physical education teacher and strength coach at the district, became a mentor to the future NFL draft pick.
“So I was a supporter to him with a lot of other people,” Salmon added.
He helped to get Williams reenrolled and helped him to establish some goals. One of those included getting caught up with his classes so he could graduate with his class.
Salmon also helped Williams become a part of team activities like basketball and football.
Though he was 6’3” and weighed 300 lbs., he didn’t see much time for a solid Jays’ program.
In his senior season he had just 21 tackles and only started one game.
Williams did graduate and was uncertain of what his future would hold.
“He really started to take education to heart,” Salmon said.
His life changed when Salmon joined him on a road trip to watch one of Williams’ friends play for the University of Kansas against Texas Tech in Jayhawk country.
When there Williams met some of the Kansas players and made up his mind. On the journey home he told Salmon he wanted to pursue playing college football.
“He started to talk about a game plan and I said it was not going to be easy,” Salmon added.
After all, Williams didn’t have much game tape to show a college program and he was a little out of shape.
Coffeyville Community College is where he had a game tape sent. The problem was the college football program doesn’t accept uninvited walk-ons and the coaches weren’t impressed with the game tape.
Regardless of the situation, he enrolled and showed up for spring ball though he was told he wasn’t wanted previously. He made a decent showing in Spring ball after getting a chance due to a lack of big bodies at Coffeyville.
“When he made their cuts in spring ball, the coaches really enjoyed his attitude,” Salmon said. “The kid was never late. He was getting good grades in the classroom.”
The next fall, there were three NCAA Division I recruits coming into the program. Williams outworked them all to get the starting spot.
He eventually earned All-American honors, putting him on the radar of several NCAA Division I programs. He chose the University of North Carolina. He started all 13 games in his first season. During his final season, he was named an All-American by Pro Football Weekly. He was also selected to play in the Senior Bowl.
This past April he was the No. 28 pick in the NFL draft by the Broncos and was later featured on ESPN’s Sports Science.
He also earned his college degree in communications.
Like Williams, Salmon has had a special journey of his own. He was a Van-Far graduate in 1980 after starring as an all-state athlete while playing three sports.
He went on to play two years of basketball at Hannibal LaGrange College. After leaving school and working a short time at AP Green, he eventually finished up schooling to earn a degree from Central Methodist University. Salmon coached basketball at Montgomery County for five years before spending the next 17 years as an assistant coach at Jefferson City.
Salmon’s family includes Barbara Salmon (mom); Gerald Dixon (dad); John Salmon (step-dad); Walter Salmon (brother); the late Ben Salmon along with Arthur and Laura Connors (grandparents).