When freshmen join a college program, the odds are stacked against them to learn the playbook and see the field in year one.
But there are occasionally a few newcomers who have the talent to compete immediately despite the challenging transition.
That’s proven to be the case at Wisconsin with James White, Manasseh Garner, Sherard Cadogan and Beau Allen, four players head coach Bret Bielema tabbed as potential freshmen contributors.
As the UW coaching staff was recruiting James White, they knew they were watching a special talent.
But after receiving a commitment from 5-foot-10, 198-pound White, running backs coach John Settle figured it would take time for the prospect to adjust to the speed of college football. Instead, UW defenders are trying to catch up to him, as White has brought his quick and shifty style to Madison without hesitation.
“He’s surprised me,” Settle said. “He provides a spark, a change of pace. Normally freshmen take a little time to adjust, but he came in right away and never flinched. He looked like he belonged from day one.”
White’s high school highlight videos have one major theme — his ability to make people miss. Defenders think they have the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native lined up, but in an instant he’s made a cut and is sprinting downfield. Now he’s going up against Big Ten athletes, but the results haven’t changed.
Did White think his style would be as effective so early in his collegiate career?
“I was confident, but I wasn’t sure how it would go,” White said. “I’m still learning the speed of the game, when to make cuts and when not to make cuts.”
White will play behind superstar running back John Clay and an improved Montee Ball, but his unique running style and catching ability makes him difficult to keep off the field. While carries may be limited due to the Badgers’ depth, Bielema stated that White will utilize his skills as the team’s new kick and punt returner, replacing senior David Gilreath. It’s a new position for White, but the freshman is anxious to contribute any way he can.
“We had people even faster than I was in high school so I never really did return kicks in a game,” White said. “But if they want me to do it, ill do whatever I can to help this team.”
Physical East Coast receivers
Six-foot-2 wide receiver Manasseh Garner and 6-foot-3 tight end Sherard Cadogan each played both offense and defense in high school. Garner, a Pittsburgh native, played a hybrid linebacker position, and Cadogan played defensive end for his high school in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Here at UW, these two athletes will be playing solely on the offensive side of the ball, but they both plan on bringing physicality to their pass-catching positions.
When asked to describe their respective styles, Garner and Cadogan were quick and to the point.
“Physical with a fearless mentality,” Garner said. “I’m taking my defensive characteristics and applying that to wide receiver.”
Cadogan echoed those sentiments.
“I play hard, play physical,” he said.
Garner has been learning behind a deep group of wide receivers, and he could see the field in selective formations. Cadogan, on the other hand, has been lining up at fullback, which should allow him to utilize his physical nature and serve as a receiving option out of the backfield.
“Fullback is his best chance to get reps, so we are using him there at the moment,” tight ends coach Joe Rudolph said. “In this role you need to be a blocker and have that physicality in you, and there is no question he doesn’t shy away from contact.”
Man in the middle
The center of UW’s defensive line is undergoing a dramatic transition. Five of the top six defensive tackles from last season graduated, leaving huge holes for the coaching staff to fill.
Adding 325-pound freshman Beau Allen will certainly help.
The Minnetonka, Minn., native has the one thing freshman tackles must have to handle opposing Big Ten linemen: size.
“It’s one of the hardest positions to recruit, and to find someone that might have a chance to help us a true freshman is few and far between,” said defensive line coach Charlie Partridge. “He has a ways to go but we feel he can get into the rotation this year.”
Allen knew there would be an opportunity to play right away at Wisconsin with all the new faces at defensive tackle, and he says it was a personal goal to get playing time as a freshman.
After making an impression on his coaches and teammates, Allen and the rest of the freshmen fighting for early playing time must now refine the details of their games in order to effectively contribute.
“I feel pretty good and I know I can handle it physically,” Allen said. “Now it’s just the little things that we need to continue to work on.”