The position was already stretched thin entered the fall with three seniors having graduated from the program and redshirt freshmen Marquis Mason out this upcoming season with an ACL tear. Over the course of two weeks, however, receivers Manasseh Garner, Chase Hammond and Nick Toon all have been chased to the sidelines with injuries, leaving a void for any young player to step in and compete.
While many young players have tried to take the next step, it's evident through two weeks of spring ball that redshirt freshman Connor Cummins has put his name into the mix.
Working primarily with the second-team offense but rotating in at points with the first-team at the X receiver, Cummins had been one of Russell Wilson's and Joe Brennan's favorite receivers, showing the ability to find an open part of the field and, most importantly, hang on to the football.
"Camp is not an easy thing and we have a lot of guys going through injuries, so Coach (DelVaughn Alexander) told me that when I get an opportunity like this, I really got to take advantage of it," Cummins said. "I've been working really hard to get the offense down as much as possible through reps and when I get the chance, I've just got to go make a play."
Like a lot of the receivers, Cummins spent a lot of time on the summer working with Brennan and redshirt sophomore Jon Budmayr catching balls, running routes and getting a general understanding of what was needed to succeed. It was that time that has allowed Cummins to make such a seamless transition from high school.
Named first-team All-Greater Catholic League as a senior, Cummins made 21 receptions for 276 yards and three touchdowns, while also returning eight kickoffs for 195 yards and six punts for 150 yards. He went to the same high school as current UW linebackers Chris Borland and Cody Byers, a huge benefit in his recruitment.
Cummins never went to a Wisconsin high school summer camp or had much conversation with the UW coaches until he saw head coach Bret Bielema in the stands to watch one of his basketball practices. It was that visit that led to a visit to Wisconsin spring game and a preferred walk-on offered from recruiting coordinator Joe Rudolph.
Cummins had walk-on opportunities at a couple MAC schools, but took the best opportunity, which was Wisconsin.
"There was some pressure on that practice, which usually doesn't happen," Cummins laughed. "It was something I was excited about."
From current players like Luke Swan, who ironically is one of Cummins' position coaches, to redshirt sophomore Jared Abbrederis, who won a state title as the quarterback of Wautoma his senior year, the Badgers have had recent success turning walk-on prospects into stand-out receivers. Cummins had those same type of characteristics, having won a state title his senior season with Byers and playing in a high-profile school like Archbishop Alter.
Having played wide receiver since a sophomore in high school, Cummins said the biggest adjustment to the college level is the speed of the game, something he continues to adjust, but has taken to the downfield blocking because his school used the triple option.
"I had a lot of blocking calls, which has really helped," Cummins said.
It's allowed Cummins to overcome a bilateral sports hernia he suffered midway through spring football practices to become a contributor, and arrange his fall goals. Originally wanting to make the team's travel roster, Cummins now sees himself as someone who can be a valuable asset when the season begins.
"I think I have a legitimate opportunity, but by no means am I close," Cummins said. "I've got to show the coaches a lot. Nothing is guaranteed yet, so I have got to keep working on. The biggest thing is to be able to think on your feet, make quick decisions and when the ball comes at you, make a play. I have to learn every position so when there's an injury, the coaches can count on me to go out and play."