As Quintez Cephus sat in a wheelchair outside the Wisconsin locker room after UW’s victory at Indiana, his teammates offered their condolences as they filed past.
Cephus’ sophomore season was finished thanks to an ugly right-leg injury.
“You never want to see one of your brothers hurt,” redshirt freshman wide receiver Kendric Pryor said. “It sucks. He was having a great year.
“We told him: ‘We’re playing for you and we’re praying for you, too.’”
The loss of Cephus, coupled with the earlier decision by senior Jazz Peavy to leave the team, left the unit in the hands of Pryor, sophomore A.J. Taylor and freshman Danny Davis.
Cephus at the time led UW in catches (30), receiving yards (601) and touchdown catches (six).
The first question they heard individually and as a group:
How is UW going to overcome the loss of Cephus?
They listened. They pondered the question. And privately, they bristled.
They believed that as well as Cephus had been playing, they could contribute, too.
“We talked about being dominant,” Pryor said. “Everybody was asking: ‘Who is going to step up?’
“We wanted to step up as a whole group and show we’ve still got some ammo left.”
And they have stepped up.
In the two games Cephus has missed, victories over Iowa and Michigan, the trio has a combined 14 touches—receptions and runs. The results: 269 yards, an average of 19.2 yards per touch, and two touchdowns.
“Those are guys, I have said that they compete and they love playing football,” quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “When one guy makes a play the other guy is getting antsy because he wants to make a play himself.
“It is a fun group to be around and they compete every single play.”
Their individual numbers in the last two games:
Davis has five catches for 101 yards, an average of 20.2 yards per catch. Four of his catches have been third-down conversions.
Taylor has four catches for 93 yards, an average of 23.3 yards per catch. Two of his catches have been third-down conversions. Both came in the 24-10 victory over Michigan, a 51-yard gain on third and 13 and a 24-yard touchdown on third and 16.
Pryor has one catch for 12 yards, a touchdown against Iowa. He has four runs for 63 yards and two touchdowns, one against Iowa and one against Michigan.
“It’s fun seeing their growth and you know they can continue to get better,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “I still feel like this whole team’s that way. Doing some really good things, but we can still get better and need to find ways to get better.”
Cephus has followed their progress and used Twitter to cheer them on.
When the trio combined for 100 receiving yards and a touchdown and 25 rushing yards and a touchdown in the victory over Iowa, Cephus tweeted: “WE GOT AMMO.”
“That is dope,” Taylor said. “I like that. That is hilarious.”
Davis added: “I heard about it afterward. That is Q for you. He loves the game. He is a great kid.”
After the trio combined for 106 receiving yards and a touchdown and 38 rushing yards and a touchdown against Michigan, Cephus tweeted: “Them boys showed out today! We Got Ammo!”
Support is a two-way street.
“We know it is going to be a hard time for him,” Davis said. “He is battling through adversity right now. We’ve just got to keep him positive and keep telling him that it will be all right and he is going to come back stronger.
“We’re playing for him.”
Cephus, who gets around campus using a small scooter designed to keep all weight off his right leg, is around the team as frequently as he can be when he isn’t in class.
“He is engaged, motivating us and encouraging us,” Pryor said. “It feels really good when one of your brothers is doing that.”
UW (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) closes the regular season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Minnesota (5-6, 2-6).
Then comes the Dec. 2 showdown with Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
Davis, Pryor and Taylor don’t see any reason they can’t continue to contribute as they have in the last two games and make their fallen teammate smile.
“We just have to contribute like we’ve been doing, give it all we’ve got,” Davis said. “When Hornibrook puts the ball there, just go get it. We’ve got to make plays. That is what receivers do.”