Being spring camp and all, there aren’t many new faces at the Wisconsin football team’s practices quite yet. In fact, there are only two, as far as true freshman go.
One of them, a short and fleet-footed wideout, is pretty hard to miss among the typical giants that roam the field.
Kenzel Doe, a native of Reidsville, N.C., stands at a modest 5-foot-8 inches tall. He’s got one inch on the team’s shortest player, kicker Alec Lerner, but that’s no reason to doubt him.
The fact that he hasn’t lost a football game since the fifth grade (that’s a 103-game winning streak) might be enough just to clue you in.
Despite being lightly recruited by Division-I programs, presumably because of his height, Doe begins his college career as one of the most anticipated members of Wisconsin’s 2011 recruiting class.
After winning three consecutive state championships with Reidsville High School, Doe enrolled at Oak Ridge Military Academy, a preparatory school, to play football. It was during that time – one year ago – when former UW running backs coach John Settle took notice.
For Settle, it was easy to see Doe’s ability stretched far beyond his stature. After nearly three weeks of spring camp, Doe has already established himself as one of the fastest players of the team.
And just because he stands at 5-foot-8 doesn’t mean he can’t grab a high pass. According to Doe, he’s got a vertical leap of 38 inches and can dunk on the basketball court.
“I just really don’t look at my height anymore,” Doe said. “I used to. I was like ‘I want to be six (feet tall),’ but I just use my speed to my advantage.”
That kind of talent had Settle, who has since accepted a job coaching the running backs for the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, singing high praise.
He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dave Heller in January: “He’ll be ahead of any other freshman,” Settle said. “We see him getting right on the field and play right away.”
Although he’s parted ways with Wisconsin since then, Settle’s prediction has proven to be quite accurate. Doe appears to be next in line to succeed David Gilreath as the team’s return specialist. Over four years, Gilreath averaged over 750 yards per year as a kick returner and 180 as a punt returner.
Offensively, the team seems to be designing a few plays to specifically get the ball into Doe’s hands, such as a quick screen pass to him out of the slot. A play like that is perfect for Doe, with a few blockers in front of him and the sidelines to streak down.
The Badgers did nearly miss out on the unheralded Doe, however. He originally committed to Oregon State, but after visiting Madison he knew he wanted to be Badger rather than a Beaver.
“When I came to my official visit, it just felt like home,” he said. “I really didn’t even want to leave,” he said.
But he came back soon enough. After committing to UW in late January, Doe has found himself wearing cardinal and white over full pads just about three months later.
And his presence in the spring will surely pay dividends for the freshman, according to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.
“Him coming in right now is huge because… in the spring, the coaches have a lot of time to build and work on individuals, because during the season they’re working on the one’s and the two’s and the gameplan, so there’s not a lot of time,” Abbrederis said.
“So he’s getting a really good head start on it and he’s going to be a lot farther ahead of the other guys coming in [for] the fall.”
The learning curve that comes with the entrance to college football shouldn’t be as taxing for Doe, either. After spending some time at a military school and with a former Marine as a father, he believes he’s disciplined enough to accept that challenge.
Considering the Badgers’ receiving corps is undergoing some hefty retooling, that’s even better news for the coaching staff.
Isaac Anderson graduated along with Gilreath, and the two combined for 47 catches and 603 yards last season. Tight end Lance Kendricks, who led the team in receiving with 43 receptions, 663 yards and five touchdowns, graduated to the NFL.
Meanwhile, No. 1 wide receiver Nick Toon is sitting out the entirety of spring camp with a fractured foot.
Just three months after committing, the time is now for Doe to make an impression. Nobody doubts he will – including himself.
“The coaches, they’re really saying I’m catching on real quick,” Doe said. “I’m learning the plays, I just got to get used to the speed of the game. I feel like I’ve been doing a really good job.”