Sanders Shiver used to run down football fields, a stalwart defensive presence as a linebacker for the NFL’s Baltimore Colts.

Thirty-four years after his best pro football season, Sanders now walks down the hallways of a Prince George’s County school, greeting students by leaning his 6-foot-2 frame down to give high-fives to children in the early-childhood program at Carmondy Hills Elementary.

After 10 years in the NFL with the Colts and the Miami Dolphins — and after coaching football at Bowie State and Howard universities — Shiver turned to early-childhood education, becoming an advocate for academic opportunities for boys of color. In 2000, Shiver started working for Prince George’s County Public Schools as the coordinator of the Even Start Family Literacy program, providing early-childhood education, adult education and parenting education. He is now the program manager at the Judy Hoyer Family Learning Center in Capitol Heights.

“My only goal is that we create a better society,” Shiver, 57, said of the work he has been doing for the past year with children and their young parents. He said he believes that with early intervention, the children “are going to effect change in this community.”

For the most part, Shiver manages a program that works with young single mothers, offering a place to find ways to further their education while preparing their children for kindergarten.

Former Baltimore Colt Sanders Shivers works in early-childhood education in Prince George's County Public Schools. (Prince George’s County Public Schools)

“I could read at 4 years old,” said Shiver, who grew up in Gadsden, S.C., a small town outside Columbia. His parents and older siblings played a key role in making sure he was ready for school, but many children do not have the same upbringing, he said. That is why he is a proponent of early intervention.

Shiver did not think he would become a professional football player, focusing more on baseball in his youth. So what did he want to become when he grew up? All he remembers, he said, is that “I wanted to learn” and earn a college degree.

After graduating from high school at age 17, he attended South Carolina State University for less than a month. He thinks being so close to home affected his ability to make the most out of college, he said.

So he called a football coach he knew at a small liberal-arts college in Tennessee. Before long, he was on the football team at Carson-
Newman and majoring in physical education.

Shiver was drafted by the Colts in the fifth round in 1976. After eight years, he was traded to Miami, where he played for two more seasons.

For the past 13 years, Shiver has worked with early intervention and with various groups that look at how boys learn differently. He helped facilitate bringing in the Gurian Institute to train teachers about differences in gender learning. He is also part of a 34-member commission, created by author Warren Farrell, that is advocating for a White House Council on Boys and Men.

Shiver, who was appointed by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to an advisory council on early-childhood education, said he hopes that his work has an impact on the next generation.

Christian Rhodes, Baker’s education adviser, described Shiver as a “gentle giant” who “pulls you to the side and gives you a different perspective, which has been helpful in guiding our work.”

In a “Where Are They Now” feature on the Baltimore Ravens’ Web site in 2009, Shiver said that if a student asked for advice about becoming a professional athlete he would say: “Professional football is one of those jobs that ends very quickly. . . . It’s the stuff you do before you get that professional opportunity and the things you do after it that set you apart and establish you as a person.”

Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.