By TOM LEA
MADISON – The stats are minute (two receptions, 45 yards), but his potential is rather open-ended.
At 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, Manasseh Garner has prototypical possession receiver size. Unfortunately, injuries, stamina and inconsistency at the wide receiver position have plagued him throughout his two seasons in Madison.
Though he’s got tremendous upside, everything needed to be a contributing wide receiver hasn't quite clicked for the Pittsburgh native.
“You hope some day it jumps in and clicks into him,” UW head coach Bret Bielema, who also said Garner looks like a ‘Greek God’ earlier this week, said following Wednesday’s night practice. “He’s gifted and athletic. He’s probably not the hard charging guy all the time, though. That’s what he’s got to push himself through.
“When we did the two-minute (drill); when things wore down he wore down.”
That comments seems to directly contradict the mindset Garner is playing with this fall camp. Finally healthy — the junior calls it a blessing — Garner has been receiving reps with the No. 1 and No. 2 offense. It seems he’s finally on the precipice of becoming a viable weapon for Matt Canada’s offense.
“I consider myself a lion,” Garner said earlier this week. “That’s what I tell myself all the time. I feel like I’ve got to attack everything, whether it’s defenders on blocks or when the football is in the air.
“I’ve just got to be that lion. I look at the football as my prey. That’s just my personality and how I go about everything.”
But that hasn’t necessarily shown through on fall Saturday’s. Not yet at least.
Garner, a highly touted prospect in the class of 2010, played both sides of the ball during his freshman season. Originally recruited as a wide receiver, Garner wound up playing defensive end for Dave Doeren’s defense (Garner collected 10 tackles and one tackle-for-loss). He also dabbled with the tight end position on offense that season.
With high hopes entering his sophomore season, Garner was sidelined in the early stages of camp with a sports hernia. As his recovery went, Garner continually fell prey to setbacks that thwarted his ability to get on the field.
“I wanted to play,” Garner said. “I think I rushed it a little bit. I thought I could contribute to the team. I tried as much as I could, but I just wasn’t able to run and play to my full potential.
“I just had minor setbacks last season.”
The wide receiver race inside UW’s ongoing fall camp is essentially wide open, especially now since the No. 2 receiver opposite Jared Abbrederis, Jordan Fredrick, has been sidelined with a calf bruise.
Garner, who Bielema said had his best consecutive two days of practice following Wednesday’s night practice, is in the mix for playing time this fall.
“I definitely feel like I am taking advantage of every opportunity I get,” Garner said. “With every opportunity, with the mistakes that I make, try to be better the next day.
“Just move forward every day and just get better.”
He said that with a certain conviction to his voice, almost as if he’s been frustrated with himself for getting injured and missing out on the opportunities he had a season ago. Though he could have sat out all of last season and utilized his still available redshirt year, Garner has no regrets.
He said everything happens for a reason and that he didn’t feel as though the redshirt option was in his best interest a season ago. Because of that decision, Garner only has two years of eligibility remaining.
And knowing that, Garner knows the importance of making his move this fall camp.
“I’m a junior,” he said. “I’ve got two years. It’s go time. No more bouncing back and forth to see where I fit. It’s either now or never.
“So that’s how I feel about it.”
Garner said one of his top priorities is securing a role in the wide receiver rotation come week one of the regular season. He says he wants to continue working throughout the remaining 11 fall camp practices so he can position himself as a reliable threat come game week.
But he also realized that his work doesn’t stop there. In order for him to be as productive as he hopes to be, he’s entering ‘lion’ mode.
“Just go out there and bust my butt,” he said. “Leave no doubt. I’m not perfect and I’m going to make mistakes. The coaches know that, but as long as they know and I know that I’m going to work every day to get better at that. Coach Zach Azzanni tells all of us older receivers that we have a little window to make something happen and that we’ve got to take advantage of that little window.
“The time is now.”