In the mid-90s, UCLA football was dominating and Chad Sauter was a major cog.

With the offensive line commanding frequent UCLA marches to the end zone, all Pac-10 offensive lineman Sauter was leading a successful UCLA football squad. Beating USC was not only an annual event, it came with relative ease. The Rose Bowl hosted the Bruins even on New Year’s Day.

After a senior year cut short due to injuries, a few NFL teams said they would give him a second look if he played in Canada for a season.

“By that time I was done with it,” Sauter said. “I was sick of being over 300 pounds, getting injured all the time. So I just stopped playing.”

Now, with his football days behind him, Sauter leads a successful gang intervention program for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The 6-foot-4-inch, formerly 300-pound-plus offensive guard for the Bruins is now Deputy Sauter of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, working in the community relations at the department’s Lynwood station.

A culture shock

When the then-18-year-old Sauter arrived at UCLA in the fall of 1994 to play for a routinely successful Bruin squad, he quickly realized that he was not in his quaint South Torrance neighborhood anymore.

“It was just a complete culture shock when I came (to UCLA),” he said, “talking to guys who were like, “˜Oh yeah, my buddies used to do drive-bys,’ and “˜I knew this guy that got killed and that guy that got killed.’”

Born and raised in a middle-class suburban neighborhood, Sauter had never experienced gang violence or even heard of gangs.

“Growing up in Torrance, I didn’t know anybody who got shot, didn’t know anybody who was in a gang,” the All-Division IX high school lineman said. “I grew up in that area where all the Christmas tree lights were.” Many local residents still flock to the South Torrance neighborhood during the wintertime to see the Christmas decorations.

With his background, Sauter was initially shocked to hear about the prevalence of gang violence in the inner city from teammates who grew up knowing many people in gangs. Eventually, he was inspired to help, spending two summers working for the Los Angeles Unified School District with other players, teaching football and instructing football camps for inner-city kids.

Sauter was no unqualified candidate, either. As an All Pac-10 guard, Sauter played a major role in building the Bruins’ historic 20-game winning streak that began in his senior season.

After deciding against a potential future in the NFL, Sauter began a career in 1999 with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, taking a position as a prison guard. .

After four years of working in the jails and an additional five as a patrol officer in the Lynwood area, it was not until about a year and a half ago that Sauter began working in community relations, where he found himself involved in gang intervention.

“I started working in the community, then I saw it for myself how poor the schools are and how kids get involved in (gangs),” Sauter said. “It’s just a reciprocating effect. Kids just keep getting involved; they pull up their younger brothers and it just continues.”

Sauter reflected on his experiences at UCLA with his station’s captain, Jim Hellmold, and they began working on a plan to reduce gang presence in the inner city.

“We’re trying to have a long-term approach to reducing the incidence of gang violence, so (Los Angeles County) Sheriff Lee Baca has put out a very clear gang strategy which is prevention, intervention and suppression,” Hellmold said. “Whether it be the football program with Deputy Sauter, leadership programs that we also have on a weekly basis, youth employment, explorer programs, those are prevention and intervention methods we are trying to get actively involved and keep kids from even going that route with the gangs.”

Many of Sauter’s teammates shared stories with him about their high school classmates who could not escape gang involvement.

“When I was at UCLA, we had a lot of football players from the inner city,” Sauter said. “The other athletes would tell me about how they had kids they went to high school with who were exceptional athletes, but they just couldn’t get it together.

“They just were either involved in drugs or gangs or crime, and they just couldn’t produce on the field long enough and stay out of jail long enough to go to the next level.”

Sauter and Hellmold began developing a program to reach inner-city youth before they become involved with gangs.

“We’re trying to find out: What are the kids interested in? What are the two main, basically, consistencies the kids in the area like?” Sauter said. “Athletes and rappers: that’s kind of their role models.”

With the stigma surrounding law enforcement in the inner city, Sauter said he also wanted to smooth out any tensions between himself and the youth he planned on working with.

“We developed an idea to go to the schools and talk with the kids and establish ourselves as a mentor, a role model, and talk with the kids so they see law enforcement as people who are trying to help them, not hurt them,” Sauter said.

Hellmold explained that he and Sauter wanted to use their strengths to their advantage in combating gang influence.

“So in Chad’s case, (his strengths include) his knowledge of football and his passion for football and his experience not only in high school but in UCLA and beyond,” Hellmold said.

Sauter decided that the best avenue to establish a positive relationship with inner city youth was through his own athletic talents and experiences. He eventually picked up another duty on top of being an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy.

Call him coach Sauter.

Sauter shed his uniform and began coaching the offensive lines at Centennial and Lynwood High Schools.

“It was really successful,” Sauter said. “Initially the kids were a little apprehensive. After a while they really started opening up to me and the programs were really successful after that.”

With Sauter leaving his uniform at home to coach the high schools, he created positive interactions for his players with law enforcement.

“That’s been a success, because a lot of the kids normally, maybe, have their guard up against law enforcement, but saw him as a coach and someone they really admired,” Hellmold said. “Because of his history as a successful UCLA football player, as a deputy sheriff who has done an excellent job combating violence, he is really respected out here.”

A blue and gold future for a successful program

In just three years after implementing the department’s new program of prevention, intervention and suppression, Hellmold said the Lynwood area has already seen results.

Hellmold added that the number of homicides has reduced due in part, at least, to Sauter’s intervention program.

With such success in gang prevention, Hellmold and Sauter have met with UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel to discuss the university’s involvement with the Sheriff Department’s gang intervention programs.

“Coach Neuheisel saw the success we have had,” Hellmold said. “Being that he is inspired to bring that tradition of success from UCLA there, I think he recognizes a winning operation. So he’s been supportive of not only Chad’s involvement but in the future involving UCLA football players.”

Neuheisel was unavailable to further elaborate on his future plans with involving UCLA football in gang intervention programs, but both Hellmold and Sauter said they are excited for future UCLA involvement in their community programs.

Neuheisel and Sauter are no strangers to each other; the pair actually met when Neuheisel was an assistant coach at UCLA in 1994, Sauter’s freshman season.

Most recently, both spoke on a panel about involving sports in gang prevention on June 9.

“We’ve been talking with (Neuheisel) and trying to work on some ideas to get him and the players involved in the community and bolster some of that positive feedback from UCLA,” Sauter said.