The sight of watching the Badgers’ third-string tailback – a true freshman - go over 100 yards in each of their first two games of the season only made him want to get to campus sooner.
“Watching Clement take on the reps at the end of the game and make the best of them sent chills through my spine,” said Deal. “I felt really excited that a lot of the running backs get carries throughout the game or during the season. There wasn’t a big issue of one running back starting all the time, and that played a big part in my decision.”
The third running back has been vital to keeping Wisconsin’s offense moving forward. Three times in the past four seasons the Badgers’ top three rushers have been tailbacks who average 721.3 yards per season.
With Melvin Gordon being elevated to the starting job and Corey Clement slated to be his backup, Taiwan Deal and fellow true freshman Caleb Kinlaw will be a part of an interesting position battle for the third tailback role when camp opens Monday morning.
With the coaching staff splitting the team into two groups for two separate practices, both players will be thrown right into the deep end of the pool by getting plenty of reps with the offense.
“It’s one of those things that it gives you a fair look and a fair amount of reps,” said Kinlaw. “Getting thrown into the deep end makes you react quickly. You have no choice but to think. It’s better then sitting behind and watching.”
Both players bring impressive resumes with them to Wisconsin. Deal was the Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year, not to mention a first-team all-state selection, after rushing for 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior. Kinlaw rushed for 1,154 yards and 21 touchdowns en route to all-state and all-region honors.
Both players rushed for a combined 7,200 yards and each scored 52 touchdowns and each has become a pupil of Gordon.
“He taught me the ropes, told me the little things to do and the extra workouts I could do to get better,” said Deal, who was assigned to Gordon as part of the big brother program. “He’s a great role model (and) a really good person. He took me under his wing from day one. I didn’t feel I had to open up and be scared to talk to him. He’s a real down-to-earth person. We bonded quickly and he let me know what to expect.”
Kinlaw stated he missed some conditioning time over the summer with various bumps and bruises caused by his final high school season. His primary goal entering camp is to stay healthy, maintain his weight and taking care of his body, all things the upperclassmen taught him.
“My main thing is trying to learn from guys like Corey and Melvin,” said Kinlaw. “If I’m doing everything right, coach will put who is fit at the third spot. I am just looking to be 110 percent instead of 90 percent.”
While Deal had the luxury of getting a Heisman Trophy contender as his mentor, Kinlaw already had a prior relationship with running back coach Thomas Brown. Kinlaw was one of Brown’s top targets during the last recruiting cycle when Brown was an assistant at Marshall.
“The two of us had a pretty good relationship and we talked often,” said Kinlaw. “He’s a very laid-back, straight-forward guy. He just tells you what to do to get things done. He’s a businessman.”
Kinlaw is more of a speedster outside the tackles while Deal labels his running style as “unique,” saying he’s more of a bruiser who will continue to mesh into the offense as he develops. They are two standout tailbacks looking to make an impact from the start.
“Coming into camp, we have to compete,” said Deal. “Day one when I got here, Coach Brown said I have to compete with guys to get that third running back spot. Competition brings the good out of people.”
“This freshman class has a big desire to win, each and every one of us,” added Kinlaw. “That’s one thing you always want to have coming in with. You want people that are going to fight and give 110 percent every day because that makes you better.”