Bridging the Gap

Question marks have surrounded the cornerback position since both of Wisconsin's starters graduated following the 2013 Rose Bowl. After playing in every game last season, sophomore Darius Hillary is ready to step in and pick up the slack.

MADISON - One of the first things the new Wisconsin defensive coaching staff did in one of their meetings prior to spring practices was to hand out a preliminary depth chart. The theory was the coaches wanted the players to know what they were thinking where everyone fit in, and maybe give some players an added dose of motivation.

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Darius Hillary took the hint, especially after his name was listed on the number-one line.

"I wanted to work," said Hillary. "I didn't want to be complacent with being where I was. I wanted to stride."

The self motivation apparently has worked. While Wisconsin football hasn't released an official depth chart since the season ended, Hillary has stayed constant working with the starters next to redshirt junior Peniel Jean, the only cornerback on the roster with starting experience.

Wisconsin has been waiting to use Hillary since he arrived on campus. The team's emergency cornerback two years ago, he was one of the few young players who got considerable work in a veteran Wisconsin secondary last season. Playing all 14 games at the nickel cornerback position next to senior cornerbacks Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith, Hillary registered 23 tackles (16 solo), including a career-high eight tackles against UTEP that built confidence heading into conference play.

"(Playing last year) actually helped me out a lot, especially moving forward with being in that position, seeing how the game goes and what to expect," said Hillary.

So when Wisconsin headed into spring needing to build depth at the cornerback position, Hillary was prepared. Wisconsin brought in virtually an entire new defensive staff, but the Badgers retained assistant coach Ben Strickland in the secondary.

"It was a great transition," said Hillary. "The coaches had new plans for us and everybody bought into the program."

That "new" plan called for Hillary and the other cornerbacks to become more physical in their press technique, not willing to settle for the "bend but don't break" defense UW had utilized in the past. Doing constant repetitions over the summer, Hillary's work has flashed during the fall in one-on-one coverage and making plays at the line of scrimmage.

"We're buying into the program and coming together," said Hillary. "We just need to be willing to play for each other. If we do that, we can't lose."

Hillary says his fellow cornerbacks took the same approach as him over the summer, so it comes natural that the group gets a tad annoyed when they hear outsides talk about the strength of the front seven and the weakness in the secondary. It's just one of changes they are ready to showcase when the season opens in 15 days.

"That's definitely a motivational factor," said Hillary. "A lot of people question our secondary because of the fact that we're young, but I think a lot of people will be surprised when we come out for our first game against UMass."

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