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Young UW football standouts shine

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Aaron Brenner
October 28, 2007
— If nothing else comes from this up-and-down season for the University of Wisconsin football team, one thing can be rest assured: The Badgers have some serious talent for at least a couple more years.

While experienced players like Tyler Donovan, Marcus Coleman, Nick Hayden and others are done after this season, which stands 7-2 after a 33-3 rout of Indiana here Saturday, the UW has gotten four true freshmen onto the field consistently.


Not only that, cornerback Aaron Henry, wide receivers Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath, and running back Zach Brown have performed admirably.


“The one thing that sticks out to me is their confidence,” sophomore safety Shane Carter said after practice Sunday. “They have confidence that they’re going to come in here and make mistakes, but they believe in their ability to go out there and compete, so they’ll be fine.”


Henry was the first rookie to emerge onto the scene, playing on special teams in all nine games, and has been the No. 3 corner behind Jack Ikegwuonu and Allen Langford all season.


With injuries to Ikegwuonu and sporadic play from Langford, Henry often has been treated like a starter. Henry has made 23 tackles and is tied for team lead with 3.5 sacks.


“Aaron wants to make plays,” Carter said. “He wants to be ‘that guy’, so that’s what’s big with him.”


When wide receivers Paul Hubbard and Luke Swan were knocked out for extended time because of injuries, Jefferson was thrown into the fire as a starting wide receiver.


“We’re getting more starts and more playing time,” Jefferson said. “We’re more comfortable with the offense, with the different guys that are older than (us).”


Jefferson has given the Badgers all the production they could hope for, and then some, with 21 catches for 374 yards and a pair of scores, including the team’s longest reception of the year at 64 yards.


“Kyle played more than I did my freshman year, and he’s playing a tremendous role right now,” said tight end Travis Beckum, UW’s leading pass-catcher. “He has big shoes to fill, and I think he’s doing a great job doing it. He’s doing it day in and day out, his progress is just going to keep getting better.”


Gilreath has consistently raised eyebrows, primarily as Wisconsin’s all-purpose returner. He needed just nine games to set a single-season school record for kick return yards Saturday in the homecoming victory over Indiana, passing Brandon Williams’ 2002 mark with his 670 yards.


And the newest face to the lineup, Brown, showed what he could do when starting running back P.J. Hill left the Indiana game with a lower leg injury. Brown carried 14 times for 41 yards and caught two passes for 10 yards.


With Hill possibly hobbled and backup Lance Smith ineligible for all road games, Brown said he will spend this week preparing as if he’ll be the starter against No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday at Columbus.


“I feel like I’m ready,” Brown said. “All these weeks I’ve been getting more comfortable, getting more carries. This game showed I can do it.”


Donovan, the Badgers’ senior quarterback, praised UW’s four freshman standouts for coming in and making instant impacts.


“I’ve been very impressed with how they’ve grown up,” Donovan said. “Their maturity to adapt to the college game, it’s a big jump from high school to college. They’ve been able to come into our program and make plays … it speaks volumes for what they’re all about.”


UW rises in coaches’ poll


Wisconsin’s win over Indiana wasn’t enough to push the Badgers into the Associated Press Top 25, but they’re one spot awsay from it. They also jumped six spots to No. 19 in the USA Today coaches’ poll.


The Badgers also are No. 21 in the Harris poll, and made their first appearance in the Week 3 BCS standings, debuting at No. 21.


Ohio State, Wisconsin’s next opponent, held on to the top ranking in each poll.


UW at Ohio State on Big Ten Network


Wisconsin’s game Saturday against top-ranked Ohio State at Columbus, Ohio, has been set for 11 a.m. (CDT) will be televised by the Big Ten Network.


It will be the Badgers’ third straight appearance and fourth overall on the conference’s television network.


The Big Ten Network is available on these channels: DIRECTV, Channel 220; Dish Network SD, 439; Dish Network HD, 9467.


Wisconsin’s home finale against Michigan on Nov. 10 will kick off at 11 a.m. and be televised live on ESPN.



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