UW freshman Derrick Tindal (25) is in a position to help the Badgers' defense in his first year on campus.
Poised to contribute
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - Sojourn Shelton knows how Derrick Tindal was feeling when he arrived on the University of Wisconsin campus in June. Being away from home for the first time is one thing, but having that distance be 1,500 miles is another. So when Tindal got to Madison, Shelton made an effort to lessen the distance between school and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the city both cornerbacks call home.
“I think if anybody could relate to him as far as being far from home it’s me,” Shelton said on Wednesday. “I’m probably the biggest baby on the team when it comes to being so far from home. For me, it was just getting him to transition from that phase.”
Tindal and Shelton are among 11 Florida natives on the roster, including six true freshmen. So Tindal didn’t go through it alone, but he leaned on Shelton and the other veteran defensive backs to help him get acclimated to the city, and more importantly for Badgers’ fans, on the field. Their assistance is one reason the 5-foot-11, 180-pound, Tindal is fighting for playing time this season.
“They’ve been a big help,” Tindal said after a recent practice. “They took their job as being my Big Brother, really all of them (were) my Big Brother. They took me under their wing and tried to teach me all the ways to do the right thing.”
That includes the proper technique. Whereas in high school most Division I players were the best athletes on the field and the big man on campus, once you hit the next level that’s not the case. That can lead to players losing confidence when something doesn’t go the way they expected it to, which hit Tindal early in camp.
“At first, I was having little problems like getting beat on routes that I usually just stop,” Tindal said. “(The veterans) told me to keep my head up, made me stay in there and now it seems to be working out.”
He also has a must for a cornerback – amnesia.
“It’s very important,” Tindal said of being able to get over making mistakes quickly. “Because maybe one play you get bombed and (on the next) come back and catch a game winning pick.”
As a senior at Boyd Andersen High School, Tindal earned first-team recognition in the football hotbed that is Broward County and second-team all-state. He amassed 10 interceptions and broke up 13 passes in his career. But none of that mattered once he stepped on the field at Camp Randall Stadium.
“It definitely is a big change,” cornerback Darius Hillary said of going from high school to college. “In high school you have your one or two calls. Once you get to college, you’re going up against bigger, faster, stronger guys, and you have to adjust to that whole aspect and the mental aspect. It’s crazy. I definitely feel for all the freshmen that come in, because we’ve all been in that same spot.”
But Tindal hasn’t acted like a typical freshman. He immersed himself in his position group in an effort to play early. That opportunity was one of the reasons he came to Wisconsin. A 3-star recruit, Tindal originally committed to Indiana, but after the Badgers offered him a scholarship in mid-January, and he took his official visit later that month, he was sold. And one of the main selling points was the opportunity Shelton got in his first year.
An early enrollee in January of 2013, Shelton started 12 games a year ago for Wisconsin, led the team with four interceptions and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection by the media. Though no one is expecting Tindal to play as big of a role this year, he is currently in a fight with junior Devin Gaulden for the No. 3 cornerback spot.
“When he makes mistakes, you don’t yell at him,” Shelton said. “You let him know and get him to see what he’s doing wrong, and try to tell him what to do right. Overall, he’s just making strides in those areas. I’m truly excited for him. We’ll see where this whole thing pans out for him, but he’s going to be a special player.”
If based on effort alone, Tindal would qualify as a special player already. He took advantage of the new rule allowing players to meet with coaches for up to two hours a week in the summer. And he got with the veterans to watch film and improve his technique.
“What I liked was his commitment to the program and the way he came in and worked,” Hillary said. “And how he was proactive in asking a bunch of different questions, because he actually wants to get on the field. (He) wants to learn everything and be the best that he can.”
Playing cornerback at Wisconsin has changed over the past two years with the arrival of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his 3-4 scheme. In previous years, the corners were rarely asked to play press coverage, and the offense dictated their reactions. With a commitment to create more havoc in the backfield this season, the Badgers want and need three or four corners to matchup in man-to-man coverage. And it appears Tindal will be in those plans, though there is still work to do.
“Now it’s just as a young guy making sure he’s being consistent with his performance,” cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland said of Tindal being able to help them on defense. “I think the older guys are helping him along with that, but the mental preparation that it takes going from high school to the college level is different. And making sure he’s understanding that and learning the concepts and applying them to the snaps.
“As a young guy, the biggest thing is not knowing what you’re doing out there. I think he knows what he’s doing, and he knows when he screws up, so that’s the good part. It’s just a matter of making sure those screw-ups don’t come all too often. But Derrick is definitely a guy that can help us on defense this year.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin