Milton's Nate Hammon growing in Badgers secondary
MADISON—Nate Hammon was always confident in his abilities—even when others weren’t, necessarily—and believed he would make an impact on the field for the University of Wisconsin.
He just didn’t think it would be this past season as a redshirt freshman, a season in which he finished with 24 tackles (20 solos) despite admitting he didn’t understand the new coaching staff’s concepts through 15 spring practices and fall camp.
“I didn’t feel like I had a good grasp on it,” Hammon said earlier this month after the Badgers’ Capital One Bowl loss. “I just kept grinding and asking questions.”Hammon—a Milton High graduate—was a late find in the 2011 recruiting class by former head coach Bret Bielema. The coach’s phone call on the eve of that February’s signing day, offering a grayshirt spot, was enough to convince Hammon to stay in-state instead of signing with Illinois State to play quarterback.
The timing initially worked out perfectly. Hammon underwent foot surgery following the season and was planning on redshirting to allow himself time to heal. But after he broke a bone in his foot and had to sit out his first spring at Wisconsin, Bielema and his staff moved him to wide receiver in 2012.
Then Gary Andersen and safeties coach Bill Busch arrived and recognized that Hammon’s athleticism—he accounted for 35 touchdowns as a senior for the Red Hawks, throwing for 2,077 yards and rushing for 819 yards—could help UW’s deficiencies in the secondary in certain situations.
“It was really nice for coach Busch to put me in positions I never thought I would be in,” Hammon said. “I was really blessed to be able to go out there.” Hammon came along slowly, but he became a component in UW’s man-to-man defense during the final two months of the season. Hammon was first assigned to cover the opposing team’s tight end against spread offenses, as well as occasionally spy the tailback.
The move put Hammon in his niche. He held Chris Coyle—one of the top tight ends in the Pac-12 Conference—to three catches for 33 yards and played around 50 plays at Arizona State. From that point on, Hammon continued to add responsibilities both in pass coverage and at the line of scrimmage.
“You all know, we were searching for kids to come over that have athleticism, that could play safety,” Andersen said in the fall. “Really, the first thing we were looking for was athleticism. (Hammon) has that. He’s worked so hard on tackling. I credit coach Busch; I credit Nate.” Like his teammates, Hammon admits he has to get a lot better. He pointed to two missed tackles in the 31-24 loss to Penn State that resulted in big hits and another crucial miss against South Carolina in the red zone during the Capital One Bowl, a 34-24 loss on New Year’s Day.
“Tackling has obviously got to get better, but it’s also improved since the fall and spring,” Hammon said. “I just have to get better overall.” Wisconsin’s maligned secondary should be stronger next year, which should be viewed as a positive for a defense that will undergo a major facelift. The Badgers graduate their top four defensive linemen, including nose tackle Beau Allen, and their top three linebackers, including All-American Chris Borland, who has been the face of the defense throughout his tenure.
With only Dezmen Southward graduating from the secondary, Hammon, junior Michael Caputo and, possibly, junior Tanner McEvoy will be looked upon to solidify the last line of defense for a defense that gave up 651 yards and seven passing touchdowns in the last two games of the season.
“It’s going to be really important for me to come back and contribute again, and maybe even more,” Hammon said. “It’s going to be big for everyone. Everyone has to get better and push everyone.”