Running back Taiwan Deal is carrying a significant workload in his first week as a college football player.
Puke and rally
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - The University of Wisconsin has four tailbacks on scholarship this season. In the short-term that’s unfortunate for Taiwan Deal. With the team being split for the first four days of fall camp, and fellow freshman Caleb Kinlaw still working himself back from offseason surgery, Deal has taken nearly every rep in the afternoon practices. That means the same work that Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement are splitting in the early morning practices, Deal is doing by himself in the afternoon. That workload led to the scene that unfolded at practice on Wednesday.
The session had gotten underway at 1 p.m. and the clock was sitting at just past 2:15 p.m., so the 16 period practice was more than two-thirds of the way to its conclusion. UW had just finished a 14-play, 7-on-7 portion, and Deal was in on most of the snaps. As the team transitioned to the next drill, Deal headed for the sideline and a garbage can where he eventually threw up whatever fluids he had taken in earlier.
With the next drill starting up – a 1-on-1 matchup of wills where an offensive and defensive player lined up across from each other and tried to push the other back – Deal put his helmet back on and jumped in the drill. All he did was pancake his opponent – freshman linebacker Ben Fischer.
“I was waiting on him to come down there,” running backs coach Thomas Brown said of Deal. “I think he tried to take a beeline to the last drill to come throw up and get some water. Hey, go do what you have to do. As long as you’re up and ready to go when you’re number is called, I’ll be OK with it.”
The stop at the trash can is a byproduct of the work Deal is being asked to do. With Gordon and Clement entrenched as UW’s No. 1 and No. 2 option in the backfield, the Badgers are looking at Deal to be their No. 3 back this fall. And if previous years are any indication, he’ll get some carries.
In 2013, the third running back (Clement) ran for 547 yards. The year before, Gordon put up 621 yards as the No. 3 back. And in 2010, UW had three running backs with at least 996 yards. So the workload heaved on Deal in the first three days of fall camp is a necessity.
“I’m trying to throw him in there and see if he’ll fight through it,” Brown said. “I know at some point he’s going to get tired with the workload we’re giving him. He’s really the only tailback in the second group and is getting a majority of the reps. He’s doing some things a little bit better. He’s still learning how to operate. From a mental toughness standpoint, he’s got to continue to pick it up every single day and understand the consistency it takes to be successful at this level.”
Deal had plenty of success at the high school level. He played for one of the most prestigious football programs in the country -- DeMatha Catholic. The Maryland school owns 18 league championships over the last 33 years, including Deal’s senior season. He ran for 3,117 yards and 52 touchdowns in his career, and he was among 16 players from last year’s team to go on to play college football. But even for a player surrounded by immense talent at the high school level, the step up to the college game is significant.
“Physically on the field you’re coming from high school where you could just overpower or run past everybody, flip the field three or four times and make everybody miss and go score,” Brown said. “Now these guys here are moving just as well as you are … I think he’s adjusting pretty well, but he’s got a ways to go.”
The test for Deal is as much mental as it physical. Several times in Wednesday’s practice, Brown could be seen grabbing the freshman and lining him up where he was actually supposed to be.
“The big part of it is just learning to think when you’re tired,” Brown said. “I think when he’s tired, his fundamentals kind of go out the window, and (he) starts to kind of feel sorry for himself a little bit. I kind of understand, being a young guy, but I’m not going to feel sorry for him. Nobody else is going to feel sorry for him out here. We all came (here) to be successful and continue to work and push each other to be the best we can be.”
What should help Deal is the transition to practices with the full team, which will happen on Friday. While his reps will go down, it will allow him to see how Gordon and Clement handle their business. Both guys, despite differing amounts of success, are considered among the hardest workers on the team. And though Deal had a chance to watch them in the summer, training camp is a different beast.
“It’s a different type of work level then when he was in high school. And it was the same way for me when I came from high school to college,” said Brown, who played collegiately for Georgia. “I thought I worked hard until I got around guys that really worked every single day … He’s getting these reps now individually by himself, but once he gets around Melvin and Corey and sees those guys in person really working every single day, he’ll get a better understanding, hopefully, and try and step his game up a little more.”
Like he did in the drill in which he flattened Fischer.
“I want to see that consistently every single day,” Brown said. “He’s a big physical guy, which is one of the reasons we recruited him but he needs to be that way consistently. I think sometimes when he gets tired he plays like he’s 155 (pounds) instead of (216 pounds).”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin