Pepsi commercial puts Elgin native Sheldon back in front of the camera

  • Former Burlington Central and Northern Illinois standout Dan Sheldon is being featured on NFL games in a Pepsi commercial.

    Former Burlington Central and Northern Illinois standout Dan Sheldon is being featured on NFL games in a Pepsi commercial. COURTESY OF DAN SHELDON

  • Dan Sheldon, playing for Northern Illinois, runs after a reception against Wisconsin in 2002.

    Dan Sheldon, playing for Northern Illinois, runs after a reception against Wisconsin in 2002. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Dan Sheldon played in the preseason for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006.

    Dan Sheldon played in the preseason for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. Associated Press

  • Former Burlington Central and NIU football star Dan Sheldon plays flag football with seventh-graders at Burlington Middle School in 2005.

    Former Burlington Central and NIU football star Dan Sheldon plays flag football with seventh-graders at Burlington Middle School in 2005. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 11/17/2020 11:21 AM

Life in the fast lane has always suited Dan Sheldon.

A standout three-sport athlete at Burlington Central High School, Sheldon was a football and baseball Daily Herald All-Area captain in 2000-'01.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He went on to a decorated career at Northern Illinois University where, in 2002, he led the nation in punt return average (22.7 yards per return). He was nicknamed "Seabiscuit" because, well, he was fast. Real fast.

He had brief stints with five NFL teams, including a short stay on the Bears' practice squad, and played a season with the Chicago Rush in the Arena Football League.

Many football careers don't last long and athletes realize they need a plan when the day comes when no one asks them to put the pads on anymore.

Sheldon earned a degree in communications and media studies, an education he's taken advantage of the past 10 years. He now lives in Sherman Oaks, Calif., just outside Los Angeles.

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Those who know Sheldon have seen him on a national TV Pepsi commercial during NFL games.

As flattering as it's been for the Elgin native, being in front of the camera was never what Sheldon set out to do when his playing career ended.

"Toward the end of my (playing) career I got involved in some low-budget independent movies, originally as an investor in one where I learned all the ways not to do things," Sheldon said in a Zoom interview. "Then I started making a few of my own films, which was pretty much like putting myself through my own film school. Through that I made some contacts and got involved in commercials. I worked my way into producing some commercials but life threw me a couple of changes so I got out of that."

Sheldon's full-time job is as an estate manager, and he's in the final stages of launching an online speed and agility training business for athletes.

How did the Pepsi gig happen for someone who never aspired to be in front of the camera?

"The Pepsi commercial as an actor was a fluke," he said. "I never came out here to pursue acting. I was always behind the camera, directing and producing. Then COVID hit and I was back home visiting family and a friend of mine said, 'Hey, this (Pepsi) casting is perfect for you, you should apply for it.' I'm no actor so I was kind of lackluster to it. But they were looking for a former successful football player that had a lot of accolades and who had a lot of memorabilia, clippings and videos.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"They wanted a quarterback, linebacker or receiver between 30 and 35, and I'm out of that range (38) but I guess they thought I could still pull off that 35-year-old look."

Being at his parents' home west of Elgin turned out to be perfect timing.

"My dad has a room of old clippings and memorabilia," Sheldon said. "I pulled out all the stuff he had and it completely filled my parents' patio. So I applied. They called me and said they wanted to bring me in for an interview and casting. I told them I was in Chicago so we did a virtual casting. When we got done I was like, 'Yeah, there's no chance they're calling me. I've produced commercials, so I just kind of laughed it off.

"Two weeks later I was back (in L.A.) and they called and told me I was in the final three. I went in and did two takes. I knew the director. I had worked with him during my production days. He said he loved all my memorabilia and the next day I got the call that I was their guy."

The commercial first aired on a Thursday night game in September. That was followed by Sunday airings each week since. His contract calls for it to run 13 weeks.

"It was a great experience and a lot of fun," he said. "It's fun to watch, and my daughter (7-year old Jemila) loves to see it pop up."

Will it put Sheldon back in front of the camera again?

"Nah, it's most likely a one-time shot. I do very well in my current job, and a lot of my time goes to launching my speed training business."

Which only figures, because Sheldon's entire life has had speed and a strong work ethic attached to it.

"My football career created who I am," he said. "It's a work ethic that doesn't leave you when you're done playing. It just transitions into other things."

Things that have treated Dan Sheldon quite well so far.

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