Building off 'The Catch'

He made one of the most memorable catches in Wisconsin postseason history, but receiver Jeff Duckworth wants to be known for more than one play in his final season with the Badgers.

MADISON - As Russell Wilson scrambled to his left, trying to buy time on a critical fourth-and-6 late in the fourth quarter, Jeff Duckworth remembers trying to shake the defender nipping at his heels. Wisconsin trailed 39-34 in the first Big Ten championship game in 2011, a wild affair that had a berth in the Rose Bowl on the line.

As Duckworth drifted toward the far sideline, Wilson was out of options. With a rush coming that prevented him from running for the first down, Wilson fired a jump ball off his back foot to Duckworth.

The sophomore only had 17 career catches up until the fourth quarter, but reacted like a veteran. Seeing the ball was underthrown, Duckworth adjusted to the jump ball, saw Spartans safety Isaiah Lewis misjudge the trajectory and secured the ball in his chest on a leaping grab.

The gain was 36 yards and the all-important first down. Wisconsin scored one play later and eventually clinched its second straight conference title with Duckworth being the hero.

"I know I needed to try and put myself in position to make a play," Duckworth said. "Obviously I'm known for one play. Hopefully I can be known for more."

It was widely believed that the catch would capitulate Duckworth's confidence heading into last season. A guy who has battled back and shoulder issues throughout his career, Duckworth was going to be one of the veterans of the group next to Jared Abbrederis, and thought to be one of the team's go-to weapons.

Instead Duckworth, like the rest of the offense, struggled throughout most of the season. Duckworth played in all 14 games, but managed only nine catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Break those numbers down further and seven of those catches and 55 yards of those yards came in one game – the second half at Oregon State when Abbrederis went down with a concussion.

As the season wore on, Duckworth said his lower back injury continued to flare up, making him unable to be fully engaged and unable to practice at 100 percent.

"We learned a lot last year," said Duckworth. "It was tough to lose so many of those close games, and I didn't do enough to help the team."

But like a lot of his teammates and fellow wide receivers, Duckworth has been given a clean slate with another new wide receivers coach. Working with Chris Beatty (Wisconsin's third wide receiver coach in the last three seasons), Duckworth and Beatty has been working on cultivating the mental side of his game.

Combining what he's learned from DelVaughn Alexander and Zach Azzanni, Duckworth feels he has a good mixture for his game.

"They've all been totally different personalities," said Duckworth. "It's been good to blend them together and see what works."

After two days in helmets only and with the team ready to transition into pads, Duckworth has his focus. He wants to more consistent, learned the nuisances of the offense and become a leader as he battles for one of the starting spots next to Abbrederis.

More importantly, he wants to be remembered for more than one play.

"If you want to get the chance to play, you've got to show the coaches now that you can do it," said Duckworth. "My back feels good, and I am ready to go."


Badger Nation Top Stories