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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Clement waits his turn to be next feature back

Joey Reuteman

When James White graduated after last season, he passed the reigns of the Wisconsin football team’s rushing attack onto redshirt junior Melvin Gordon.

White himself had inherited the workload and the number one spot from Montee Ball when Ball finished his senior season in 2012, and Ball’s time came with the departure of John Clay after the 2010 season.

But at one point or another for Ball, White or Gordon, there was a waiting period with uncertainty and its share of frustration, before each earned the role of primary back in a Wisconsin offense known for its formidable rushing attack.


That waiting period is where sophomore tailback Corey Clement finds himself right now.

After a freshman campaign that saw him experience early success, albeit limited in the latter portion of the season, Clement moved up a spot in the depth chart, which brought with a chance for an increased workload.

Clement has 20 more carries than a year ago through six games, but Gordon, who has rapidly picked up speed since his 38-yard performance against Western Illinois, has received almost half of the total team rushing attempts.

Meanwhile, Clement has accumulated just over 26 percent of UW’s rushing attempts and, combined with his slow start to the season, still isn’t where he’d like to be.

“Corey is in a difficult position because he is such a competitor,” head coach Gary Andersen said after Wisconsin’s 38-28 win over Illinois. “He wants to be a great, great running back and I believe he is very special and he’s going to be a great back.”

Clement’s career-high 164 yards against the Illini, including a career-long rush of 72 yards, offered a much needed breakthrough.

“He showed today the special things that Corey can do and I wouldn’t expect him as a young man to be anything more than a little bit frustrated,” Andersen added after the game Oct. 11. “If you’re a competitor, you want the ball.”

A year ago, Clement came into the Badgers’ program after a standout high school career that saw him rush for over 6,000 yards and 90 total touchdowns, including 2,323 yards and 33 scores as a senior.

But making the transition from immense high school success to a Division I school with a proven record of elite rushers, involved a change in mindset for Clement.

“I had high expectations coming in based off my senior year of high school,” Clement said. “I just wanted to be the guy once again. It was kind of hard because you’re the guy in high school and then you just come here and you probably won’t get any carries.”

It’s not that he hasn’t gotten any carries, but his contributions to the offense have been limited at times with backs like White and Gordon in front of him. After rushing for 250 yards between the first two games last year, Clement had just 297 yards over the course of the final 10 contests. This season, it took him until the third game to finally break the 100-yard barrier and then had only 105 yards combined in his next two games, with just 22 yards on six attempts against Northwestern. 

But the uneven start to his sophomore season hasn’t shaken Clement’s confidence and he embraces his role in the offense.

“I wish I was receiving the same amount of carries [as Gordon], but I see myself as the number two,” Clement said. “When the opportunity presents itself, I just try to make the best of it. I have years to come and soon it will be my time as well.”

But even more important than his understanding of his current spot in the rushing attack is how Clement has reacted to having to watch while someone else receives the bulk of the carries, something he was used to doing during his high school career.

Following the lackluster team-rushing effort against Western Illinois, where Clement led the team with 55 yards, he described what he could improve in his game.

“Everything. I’m not perfect at all,” Clement said. “I’m not superman so I’m just going to keep finding something to work on each day. There’s something always out there that I can keep [working on], whether it’s film room or something physical I can work on.”

His attitude is not just something that he has mentioned, but something that has become evident to those around him, including on first impression to running back coach Thomas Brown who joined the coaching staff this spring.

“He’s an extremely hardworking guy,” Brown said of his first impressions. “I think both of those guys [Clement and Gordon] are really humble, but [Clement] probably works harder than about anybody on the team. He shows up every single day, no matter what the scenario is and puts out.”

Even with Gordon vying for the Heisman and occupying a large part of Wisconsin’s rushing game, Clement still plays a key role in providing balance, especially when Gordon isn’t on the field. He has also helped stabilize the passing game, which has struggled mightily at times this season and currently has the third-most receptions (6) and receiving yards (84) on the Badgers.

Although the game against Illinois was just one quality performance, in light of the passing attack’s woes, Wisconsin will need Clement going forward to be successful the rest of this season.

And with the very real possibility that Gordon will head to the NFL after this season, Clement’s chances to take the reigns of the rushing attack might not be far off either.

Regardless of when his time comes, Clement will continue to do what he does best: work hard.

“I haven’t made it anywhere yet, so I’m just going to keep playing as if I’m a freshman,” he said.

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