Photo/ESPN Wisconsin/Casey Parisi
A more mature Reggie Love is making a push for playing time at wide receiver for the Badgers.
The forgotten man
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - Outside of quarterback, it’s unlikely that Gary Andersen has been asked more questions about a position on his team than wide receiver. And the University of Wisconsin coach has answered it in a very similar fashion each time it’s brought up. It's always a variation of them counting on the experienced players – senior Kenzel Doe, junior Jordan Fredrick and sophomore Alex Erickson – the two receivers they recruited in 2013 – sophomore Rob Wheelwright and redshirt freshman Jazz Peavy – and the three true freshmen – George Rushing, Natrell Jamerson and Krenwick Sanders – that joined the team this summer. For those counting, that’s eight receivers, all of which are on scholarship. The thing is, UW has nine kids at the position that are getting a full-ride. The name missing? Reggie Love.
“It’s motivation but I definitely understand where they’re coming from,” Love said when asked about his name not being mentioned with the others. “I’m just trying to … get to a point where Coach Andersen and Coach Beatty can trust me on the field.”
The previous coaching staff had enough trust in Love to put him in for seven games as a true freshman in 2012. The Boynton Beach, Florida native caught one pass that season but seemed poised to be a significant contributor in 2013. That never materialized as he suffered – what he called – a bruised kneecap. While that played a role in him redshirting, it wasn’t the only reason. He was struggling off the field as well. At the heart of it was a self-admitted lack of maturity.
“I was very immature last year,” Love said on Friday after practice. “Just not taking everything seriously. Not taking school seriously. Not preparing myself for football and now I (see) that. Now I realize that, and now I take everything seriously … “
The change in Love didn’t come as the result of one specific incident or youthful error.
“It was just constant and constant mistakes,” the redshirt sophomore said. “And after talking with Coach (Andersen and) talking with Coach Beatty, they just told me I needed to grow up … I’ve grown, and I’m ready to make an impact.”
When UW opened fall camp this week, Beatty, who’s in his second year as UW’s wide receivers coach, was still in a wait and see mode. That mindset is due to Love’s history of not being able to stay on the field. The knee issue last fall kept him on the sideline and another injury knocked him out for a majority of spring practice. He returned late and had four catches for 24 yards in the spring game.
“Until he’s on the field for more than a three-day stretch…being able to say where he is (is tough),” Beatty said during UW’s media day prior to fall camp. "I think he’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do. I think he’s ready to make a stride. Body-type (is the) prototype. He just has to stay on the field. If he does that, we’ll see what happens.”
Love says he’s doing everything he can to stay on the field. He believes he’s spent more time with UW’s medical staff taking preventive measures to ward off injury than the guys that are already injured and doing rehab.
That work has paid off, as he made it through all five practices this week, flashing some of the ability that makes him such an intriguing prospect. At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, he’s got a physical presence that he can use to make up for a lack of top-end speed.
“So far so good with Reggie, which is really exciting,” quarterback Joel Stave said on Friday. “He’s always someone I’ve thought was a good player and could really do a lot, but it was (that) he was on the field, off the field, on the field, off the field. I know that was really frustrating for him, too. Just having him out here and having him practice. I think he’s looked really good. I think physically he’s a big strong kid. He can (get off bump coverage), so I’m excited to play with him.”
To be on the field with the first unit, he’ll have to overcome what plagues a lot of young players – the ability to stay focused and not get bogged down when something doesn’t go their way.
“I think his biggest deal is consistency and (being) able to push through a wall,” Beatty said after the third practice of fall camp on Wednesday. “I think that’s been his M.O. We talked about that. He understands that. It can’t be two good days and one bad day.”
Outside of catching or dropping passes, it’s difficult to judge whether a wide receiver has a good day or not during fall camp. But Love was out there on Friday flipping the script of a familiar circumstance.
In the past, players behind Love on the depth chart have used his inability to stay on the field as a way to catapult themselves up the list. But in the first padded practice of fall, Love got time with the first-team offense due to Fredrick (lower body) and Doe (lower body) not being available because of injury. And though he likes his current view, he wants more this year.
“I want to start. Obviously, who doesn’t want to start?,” Love said. “I’m just going to work my butt off to start. If (I don’t start, then) be in the rotation. Definitely going to help on special teams as much as I can, and wherever Coach Ludwig needs me in the offense.”
Some would view Andersen and Beatty leaving Love’s name out of their wide receiver answers as a slight. In the past, Love might have as well, but the “new” version of him does not.
“Not exactly trying to prove them wrong, make them look wrong, but just earn their trust,” Love said. “Do what they ask me to do, be where I got to be and on time, and just making an impact.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin