He might not have been the tallest wide receiver to ever play for Wisconsin, but when Jared Abbrederis took off his gear after his final game as a Badger following January’s Capital One Bowl, he left behind him some rather large shoes to fill.
Abbrederis might also not have been the flashiest or the most athletic wide out to make his way through the Badger program, but with his persistent hard work and dedication, he will graduate as the second-leading receiver in Wisconsin football history, leaving a daunting task for those that remain.
“You want to start off small because, Abby, that’s a big role to fill,” wide receiver Kenzel Doe said.
Doe finds himself at the forefront of the daunting task of replacing Abbrederis as the lone senior who has seen game time in the past. But although he has some experience in games, Doe has been relatively untested as he heads into his senior season with only one career start and just 25 career receptions.
But even without a great deal of experience starting in games, Doe has put the onus on himself to be the one who steps up to fill the void, both as a leader and as a pass catcher.
“Me personally, I’ve been feeling like I’ve done pretty good [so far,] but it’s that time. It’s my last year. It’s that time for me to come out,” Doe said of his upcoming final season as a Badger. “You want to throw to Abby just because he’s that guy and this year I want to be that guy. Whatever I have to do to prove to the coaches that I want to be that guy, then that’s what I’m going to do. That’s what I’m trying to start off in spring ball and then let that lead up to fall camp … just to get that respect.”
The only returning wide receiver who has more experience than Doe is redshirt junior Jordan Fredrick, who has started 10 games over the course of two seasons, making 27 catches over the two years.
Unfortunately, Fredrick sustained an injury during spring practice and will sit out for the rest of spring, and with injuries to a handful of others, the already depleted wide receiver group has been downsized to only four as of practice Tuesday.
But with such a young group, having only a few receivers able to compete during spring practice has allowed for a lot of growth for the younger, untested players.
“It’s hard just because you have four guys and each guy is taking like 40 reps a day. It’s been hard, but from what I see and what the coaches have been telling us, we’ve been doing pretty good,” Doe said.
Wisconsin was actually so short on receivers with only three that were healthy, which forced redshirt junior safety AJ Jordan to make a return trip to the other side of the ball.
Jordan began his Wisconsin career out at wide receiver after playing the position all throughout high school, but this past season switched to defense and saw some time at safety.
After practice Tuesday, Jordan said he was developing a passion for the defensive side of the ball, but as Badgers’ head coach Gary Andersen commented after last Friday’s scrimmage, Jordan has proved his worth to Wisconsin not just in his ability, but his dedication and versatility.
“AJ was excited about the opportunity to move back. He embraced the situation. He understands that we need him to be there. He’s in a good spot, too. He’s going to help this football team whether it’s at wide receiver, safety. We all know he’s been a very good player on special teams,” Andersen said.
Of all the injuries that have hampered the wide receivers so far during spring camp, sophomore Robert Wheelwright’s injury has probably been the most notable. Wheelwright came into Wisconsin this past fall as a fairly highly touted three-star recruit out of Ohio and the No. 70 rated wide receiver in his class, according to ESPN.com
Wheelwright chose not to redshirt during the fall, and although he saw limited time, with Abbrederis and Jeff Duckworth both gone, he has the potential to inherit a key role in the Wisconsin offense.
But having been sidelined so far this spring, it is unknown just what is in store for Wheelwright, although he is slated to make his return to practice in time for the spring game, according to Andersen.
With how youthful Wisconsin is at the position, the more experience the players can get at this point, the better.
“This spring was so important for him and no one wants to be out there more than Robert, so hopefully we can get him back,” Andersen said.
Included in the four players who have remained healthy throughout spring is redshirt freshman Jazz Peavy, a Kenosha native. With the lack of depth along the frontline, Peavy saw time with the first offensive unit along with Doe at practice Tuesday, hauling in several balls throughout the course of the portion of practice open to media.
The lack of depth during spring has given Peavy, along with the lone other healthy receiver Lance Baretz, a clear path to impressing the coaching and garnering experience they might not have gotten with a star like Abbrederis around.
Wisconsin brings in five freshmen recruits for next fall, and when the other players get healthy before fall camp, the Badgers will have 14 receivers on the roster.
So there will certainly not be any shortage of wide receivers, but it’s left to be seen who and how they will fill the shoes of Abbrederis, which for now remain empty.
“That just leaves a spot open for us. Someone has to fill the spot. Whether it’s me, someone else — someone’s got to do it,” Peavy said.