Red Ninja Steel Power Ranger revisits his Modesto roots

Before the newest Red Power Ranger escaped to Earth with the Ninja Nexus Prism, he spent some time growing up in north Modesto.

Actor William Shewfelt, 21, came back to Modesto this weekend, bringing his alma maters a you-can-do-it-too message and promoting the Jan. 21 debut of his character. Red Power Ranger Brody Romero arrives in the 24th season of the franchise, “Power Rangers Ninja Steel,” on Nickelodeon.

On Thursday, Shewfelt spoke to an assembly and signed autographs at Agnes Baptist Elementary, where he went to kindergarten toting a Red Power Ranger backpack. On Monday, the former Panther will give a presentation at Modesto High.

On Friday, he worked out with Prescott Junior High kids during PE and talked to college-aiming AVID students before also doing an assembly there. All four Shewfelt kids went to Stanislaus Union schools. His younger sister is a seventh-grader at Prescott. His brother goes to Beyer High, and his older sister works for Modesto City Schools.

For the assembly, he made a Power Ranger cast shoutout to Prescott Junior High, part of a visit he said he hoped would inspire kids to reach higher.

“It’s a great motivating factor for students, who know he sat on the same benches we sit on today. He committed himself and worked hard,” said Prescott Principal Harjinder Mattu.

Many of the kids thronging around him seeking autographs said they were longtime fans of the show, or their younger brothers and sisters had watched it. A few said they had never seen it, but hey, he’s a star. Between classes, Shewfelt gamely signed binder paper, backpacks, smartphone cases, a math workbook, arms, and even one cheek.

“I love you!” called out a voice from a giggling group of girls dashing off to class.

“I watch it with my little sister. The Red Power Ranger is my favorite!” said eighth-grader Anisah Villegas before posing for a selfie with Shewfelt.

He is a celebrity now, but as a Prescott student – “I sure wasn’t,” he told the kids.

“But what’s interesting about that is that changes as you go through life,” he said, advising them to follow their passions. “If you give people love and value, and put out the best in you, then you become popular. People like you for whatever you do.”

“He was one of the shy kids, walking around with his head down,” recalled teacher David Bragga, who urged him to try out for a part in a school play. Shewfelt refused.

“He didn’t think he could do it,” Bragga said.

But the invitation stirred something, Shewfelt said: “Deep down I wanted to. It kind of lit a fire inside me.”

In his third year at the University of California, San Diego, dissatisfied with his economics major, he emailed Bragga about how to get started in theater. Success came before he finished his new major, putting off a degree for now, Shewfelt said.

He talked about his change of heart to kids also aspiring to being the first generation in their family to go to college.

“I think going to college was the best decision I ever made,” Shewfelt told them.

“Through being in college, I learned what I wanted and what I didn’t want to be,” he said. “It’s not just classes in college. You fully expand, in so many different ways.”

Work in college productions, connections made and bit parts led him to the Power Ranger audition.

“He was a hard worker. He was a blue trunk,” said gym teacher Kris Lindberg, referring to Prescott’s point-based gym short colors. Blue is the third rung of four, just below gold. Shewfelt wore a fresh pair of blue Prescott shorts to gym Friday, having grown in size as well as confidence since junior high.

“I was a little string bean noodle, super short,” Shewfelt said with a grin. With the gym class, he ran a 50-yard dash in 6.5 seconds, performed 20 pull-ups and two sets of six power-ups, lifting his full torso above the bar from a dead hang.

Power Rangers do mostly weight lifts, gymnastics and run as a standard workout, he said.

“We keep it really simple,” he added.

His top fitness priority is healthy eating – lots of vegetables with some fruit and a little meat.

He and the crew spent the fall filming Season 24 in New Zealand, where the landscape best matches the show’s setting. On Jan. 15, he returns to New Zealand to shoot the second half of the Ninja Steel story arc through May. That will be the show’s 25th anniversary, airing in 2018 with guest appearances of the most popular past Rangers, Shewfelt said.

For the Ninja Steel series, the Power Rangers start deep in space, where Galvanax is the reigning champion of the most popular intergalactic game show in the universe, according to the Ranger crew website. Galvanax and monsters battle to prove who is the mightiest warrior. To become invincible, Galvanax must control the Ninja Power Stars.

But standing in his way is a new team of heroic teenage Power Rangers – led by Brody – who possess the Ninja Power Stars.

“The evil Galvanax sends his warrior contestants down to Earth to steal the Stars, where each epic battle against the Rangers is broadcast throughout the universe. Together, the Rangers must master their arsenal of Throwing Stars, Zords and Megazords, each made of legendary ninja steel, in order to stop this evil threat and save our planet from destruction,” explains the season preview.

The Power Rangers stories run for two years each, most featuring all new crews. The bad guys, however, stick around, Shewfelt said. Covered in elaborate rubber body costumes and masks, most of the monster actors play their parts season after season.

“It’s really strange. One second I’m telling them off on the set. The next second we’re eating lunch together,” he said.

Before being cast as a Power Ranger, Shewfelt starred in the short dramatic film “The Final Days of Elliot Morrison,” about a man recounting his last year to a new friend shortly before his untimely death.

What will be next? Shewfelt said he will audition for roles, but his dream is to be cast for a film adaptation of “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

“That book changed my life,” he said.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin