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Gilreath adds electrifying talent to return game

first_imgA great kick or punt returner needs great speed and vision. University of Wisconsin freshman David Gilreath not only possesses these qualities, but he also provides the Badgers with a threat they haven’t had since Brandon Williams roamed the field.This week, Gilreath was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against The Citadel last Saturday. During the game, he had 154 all-purpose yards, including a punt return that was almost run back for a touchdown. He averaged 14.8 yards per punt return and 24 yards per kick return this season.On top of the weekly honor, Gilreath was also the first true freshman to be named Big Ten Player of the Week since Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne did it in 1996. While proud of his achievement, Gilreath was quick to point out he was not the only player on special teams making the plays, attributing good blocking to his success.”It’s cool, but I got a long ways to go to be up there at his level. But it’s a pleasure to get that award right now and to get some Big Ten recognition,” Gilreath said. “Right now, I have to recognize the other 10 guys out there that are blocking for me, and they did a good job. I just ran.”Gilreath’s presence on special teams provides more than a scoring threat. Each good return sets up the offense with good field position.This was evident against The Citadel, when the UW offense average starting field position was its own 40-yard line. In recent years, the Badgers have struggled in the return game, hitting a low point last year, averaging only 6.6 yards per punt return in 2006.With Gilreath returning kicks, it makes the offense’s job a lot easier.”Any time we are talking field position, it certainly helps the offense. That’s the great thing about special teams,” offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said.”I think he had 200-some yards of total offense. We played on some short fields, and that sure is nice. Last year, we were backed up [a lot].”The risk of having a punt or kickoff returned for a touchdown puts a lot of pressure on not only the opposing coverage team, but the kicker as well. Many special teams coaches advise their kicker or punter to try and pin the ball against the sideline or simply kick the ball in the end zone.”Obviously, when you are playing a good returner, it puts that much more pressure on a kicker,” Wisconsin kicker Taylor Mehlhaff said. “As a punter, you obviously want to hang it up there a little longer and have as much hang time as possible to get your return guys down there. Also, a lot of times we are trying to pin them in the corner and doing some directional kicking.”There is more to Gilreath’s game than just the return side. As a prep out of New Hope, Minn., Gilreath captured headlines as a wide receiver — earning first-team all-state honors as a junior and second-team all-state as a senior. Gilreath also played track and baseball.In his short time on campus, Gilreath has proven to be an offensive threat, as well. While he still is searching for his first catch, Chryst has utilized Gilreath on wide receiver reverses, adding another element of surprise to the smash-mouth offense that Wisconsin is known for and keeping defenses honest when in the game.Standing a slender 5 feet, 11 inches tall, Gilreath’s small stature could have been seen by some as an issue for him. But what he lacks in size, the freshman wideout makes up for with sprinter’s speed. In fact, Gilreath tries to model himself after Cal speedster DeSean Jackson.”That’s my guy,” Gilreath said. “He’s about my size and does some amazing things out there. That’s the guy that I watch out there.”What most true freshmen find most difficult to adjust to in the college game is the speed. Players are faster. Plays happen quicker. But Gilreath admits it wasn’t the speed of the game that got to him when he first took the field; instead it’s nerves.”I’m just running as fast as I can, and I don’t even think about it. I guess it is slowing down a little bit,” Gilreath said. “I think what you do is you calm down. Your head is spinning and everything when you first go out there, but now … I’ve played this game and everything before.”Saturday night against Iowa, Gilreath will have to prove he can play on a bigger stage than he is used to. He will go from playing under the “Friday Night Lights” to playing a night game at Camp Randall.Gilreath admits he has never had an experience equivalent to playing at a game in such a charged atmosphere.”Practicing out there is really fun under the lights, but you don’t get a game-time experience,” Gilreath said.last_img read more