Janesville35.5°

UW-W's Underwood a class act

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JOHN N. BARRY
December 17, 2009

Derek Underwood is a lonely man.


That’s what happens when you are a kick returner for UW-Whitewater’s football team.


With opponents averaging only 9.1 points a game against the Warhawk defense, Underwood’s opportunities are limited. But the 2006 Milton High graduate has found a way to make an impact—both on and off the football field.


Underwood earned Academic All-District College Division second-team recognition in November. The team is selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America and sponsored by ESPN The Magazine, and Underwood was nominated by the UW-Whitewater after compiling a 3.88 cumulative grade-point average as a physical education major with a health emphasis.


“School comes first,” Underwood said. “My parents instilled that in me a long time ago, and as much as I enjoy playing football, what happens in the classroom is a lot more important.’’


As a special-teams player, Underwood has returned five kicks for 127 yards and a 25.4 average. He had a season-long 54-yard kickoff return against in a 58-21 win over UW-La Crosse and was named the Warhawk Special Teams Player of the Week.


Underwood also has made 16 solo tackles and 15 assisted tackles this season as a linebacker after playing defensive back the last two seasons.


Not bad for someone who led the state in scoring as a tailback his senior year of high school and hoped to play the position at Whitewater.


Although Underwood remained at tailback his freshman year at Whitewater and still gets to display his talents as a kick returner, he loves playing defense.


“It’s a lot more fun hitting people than getting hit,” Underwood said. “I don’t miss playing offense at all. I get enough of that on kick returns.”


Underwood has played in 12 of 14 games at linebacker this season and has registered three tackles for losses among his 31 total tackles.


Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said Underwood’s ability to make the transition from offense to defense, along with maintaining a high GPA is what he’ll remember most.


“Derek’s been a class individual on and off the field,” Leipold said. “The way he has handled himself academically, while still being a major contributor to our success as a team, is something I’ll never forget.


“Not many kids can go through three position changes like Derek has, and still stay positive and productive.”


Underwood hopes to become a physical education teacher and also would like to get into coaching.


But a shot at top-ranked Mount Union College is first on the docket. Underwood can envision no better way to start Saturday’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl than by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.


“That’s something we work on every week in practice,” Underwood said of different schemes for each kickoff return. “Teams don’t always kick to us, but I’m pretty sure Mount Union will.”


That’s good news for Underwood. He doesn’t want to get too lonely.



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