TRUMBULL — When the young running back wasn’t running around the house, imitating his dad or Barry Sanders, the sign went on the door: “Watching film.” He watched the games of his father, or the games his father coached, featuring Torrey Mack, Octavias McKoy, Chuck Hatchett.
Jaden Shirden was 8 or 9, his father, Duane, remembered.
“He learned how to break down film at an early age,” Duane Shirden said, “and I never really coached him in that. It was all him. He was self-motivated.”
The little boy grew up, like his father, to become a star high school running back as a young man. He won a state championship, like his father, then added another.
On Saturday at 3 p.m. at New Britain’s Veterans Stadium, in the Class L championship against two-time defending champion Hand, Jaden Shirden’s St. Joseph team will play in its fourth state title game in a row. The winner will win its third title in a row, Hand all in Class L, St. Joseph one apiece in S, M and L. Hand comes in ranked No. 1, and St. Joseph is No. 2, so the winner will surely be No. 1 in the final GameTimeCT poll.
You’ll never guess where Duane Shirden’s 1988 Stratford team was ranked in the polls.
“Duane was bigger, probably 6-1, 6-2 (compared to Jaden’s 5-foot-9, 175 pounds), but their mannerisms are identical,” said St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia, who was an assistant coach at Stratford when Duane Shirden was an underclassman. “They’re soft-spoken. They’re team-first guys. They give credit to everybody else.”
Duane Shirden was in his third year as coach at Stratford when Jaden was born in 2002. Jaden says he pretty much always knew the Stratford Hall of Famer, star in football and basketball, that his father was as a youngster.
When he was about 4-years old, he got to see it when his father brought home his high school game tapes.
“My dad was a big back. I would say he’s more like a slasher,” Jaden Shirden said. “He saw the crease, it was ‘Goodnight, Irene.’ Very fast, powerful, a great running back. He could catch the ball. He could block. He was very physical for his size.
“Myself: I would say more explosive, fast, shifty.”
Duane Shirden calls his son the better athlete. He could see the running back Jaden would be from the time Jaden put on pads at 7. It wasn’t long after that that Della Vecchia saw him for the first time and saw the same thing.
“He had the natural gift of just running with the football,” his father said. “You could see he was gifted. The talent was visible.”
Jaden got a little older, and his sister, LyAsia, visited St. Joseph to shadow a student for a day.
“She didn’t like it,” Duane Shirden said, “but Jaden loved it.
“The rest is history.”
A starter from Day 1 as a freshman, Jaden Shirden has run for 5,359 yards in four years with the Hogs, 12th in state history adding his and Sheehan’s Terrence Bogan’s seasons to the 2019 Connecticut High School Football Record Book. Bogan sits 10th with 5,537 but has a chance to add to it in Saturday morning’s Class S final against Bloomfield. Ninth is another St. Joseph back, Mufasha Abdul-Basir, at 5,630.
Shirden has run for 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons and sits only 109 away from 2,000 this season. He has scored 93 rushing touchdowns in four years, 33 this season, and added another 12 career touchdown receptions.
“He’s a wonderful kid. He’s probably the hardest-working — it’s hard to make that analogy — but he’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever seen,” Della Vecchia said.
“He does all his drills and footwork before practice. He never misses a day of it, even if he’s doing it without the other backs. When he first came to us, he struggled to catch the ball. We worked on it, and where he started to where he is now, it’s night and day, and it’s a credit to him, because he wanted to be good at it.”
They have one more game together. Saturday won’t end Shirden’s football career; he’s got a few offers to play in college, like his father, who played at Central Connecticut.
“I have to say, it has been an extraordinary career,” Duane Shirden said. “I know how hard it is to get to one state final. To get to four straight finals is incredible in this era of high school football. I’m left speechless. I’m very proud of him and the whole program.”