An Improving Sidekick

The big debate in the fall camp was which player was going to step behind Lance Kendricks and fill the back-up tight end role. With two touchdown catches in two games, redshirt freshman Jacob Pedersen is starting to become comfortable within the UW offense.

MADISON - Every good superhero needs a sidekick to help save the world. On the same accord, every good tight end in Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst's offense needs a talented No.2 tight end.

Travis Beckum had Garrett Graham. Graham had Lance Kendricks. Now, Kendricks is enjoying the emergence of redshirt freshman Jacob Pedersen.

Up until then, the hardest thing the Menominee, Michigan, native had to deal with was getting people, including the stats crew at Wisconsin, to say and spell his name right.

"Marinette, Wisconsin, is right across the river and there, they call me ‘Pederson' with an ‘O' and in Menominee, it's ‘Pedersen' with an ‘E,'" Pedersen said with wryly. "At practice, they'll sometimes say my name different each time. I'll try to correct them once if people say it wrong, but I just try to ignore it."

People have started to learn the proper way, since Pedersen's play in the early parts of 2010 has been hard to ignore. Having taken steps since last spring to be a bigger factor in the UW offense, Pedersen has emerged the last two weeks, grabbing a pair of touchdown passes and leading the team with 38 receiving yards in the loss at Michigan State.

When No.20 Wisconsin hosts Minnesota tomorrow, Pedersen will be the team's second-leading touchdown receiver, as his two grabs only trail Kendricks' three.

"Jacob had worked himself into a package and you see a guy work hard in practice, that translates," Tight End Coach Joe Rudolph said. "We felt like we needed to get him a few opportunities and he's done a nice job."

Much like freshman James White, Pedersen got his first collegiate score against Austin Peay, registering a high leap in the back of the end zone to pull down a perfectly throw Scott Tolzien pass, getting both feet in bounds for good measure.

"It's great to get it out of the way," Pedersen said. "It's a big burden to carry around."

To get that opportunity, dominoes had to fall his way. For starters, Brian Wozniak, projected to be the backup tight end, has missed the first five games with a shoulder injury while his replacement, Jake Byrne, had been limited the last two weeks with a lower body injury.

In the meantime, Pedersen had built his run-blocking repertoire; the biggest thing he learned from watching technicians Graham and Kendricks go about their business and spend countless practices on scout team going against junior defensive end J.J. Watt.

"My coach was real old-school traditional," Pedersen said, who was taught to block with his hands together and his shoulders. "It was all about listening to Coach Rudolph and getting that technique down. Once the season went on, I could see that improvement."

The tight end from Menominee, Michigan, is unlike his predecessors. Pedersen was not nationally recruited -despite playing on back-to-back Division 5 state title teams – and didn't get notice until he his team traveled to Wisconsin to play Mequon Homestead and Marshfield. Pedersen's play led the coaches of those high schools to spread the word to the UW coaches about his talents.

What endeared Wisconsin to Pedersen was his versatility. On offense, Pedersen played running back, quarterback, receiver and tight end, as his offense perfected the hook-and-ladder. On defense, Pedersen played defensive end, then outside linebacker, then middle linebacker and finally safety.

"What we saw from the film was he played everything, had good ball skills and was a competitive player," Rudolph said. "He didn't weight much at the time, but that's with his dedication and what he's been able to accomplish since he's been here. To handle to all he was doing, you need to have a pretty good understanding of what's going on. He has that, and it's emerged since he's gotten some confidence."

That distinctive journey has allowed Pedersen to become his own player, recognizing that every player is different than a player before. Instead of trying to catch Kendricks, Pedersen is applying the pros of his teammates to his own game, hoping to stay a versatile threat in the UW passing game.

"Obviously what (Lance is) doing is working, so I am hoping to get to the level he's at," Pedersen said. "I'm just trying to become a more complete tight end where they can throw me in on everything and not worry about it."

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