WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - For every winner in team sports there has to be a loser; someone who inevitably walks away feeling like a failure and asking the rhetorical questions of whether or not they gave their very best effort.
Kenzel Doe knew losing was a part of organized football … or so he was told.
“We didn’t like to lose,” said Doe, “so we didn’t.”
Growing up in the Reidsville (N.C.) football program, Doe never lost a football game in which he was a part of. From the time he was 13, his teams went 103-0. In high school Doe ran, passed, caught and defended each and every game, helping keep his team without a blemish.
He thought things were going to be like that in college, too, especially with quarterback Russell Wilson leading Wisconsin to a 6-0 record and the No.4 ranking in the country during Doe’s true freshman season.
A couple Hail Mary passes later, however, Doe – who hadn’t lost in six years - found out how much losing stunk.
“That first loss was tough,” said Doe. “It was hard just losing. I played on teams where we just won year after year. I took that hard, and I take that to heart because I hate losing.”
Doe has lost 15 times in his college career (by a grand total of 78 points) and says each one stings more than the last one. He’s won two Big Ten championships over that span, but remembers the bitter taste of losing a pair of Rose Bowls and a handful of games where the Badgers – in one form or fashion – simply didn’t execute up to their capabilities.
“I am the type of person that is not going to be satisfied with losing,” said Doe. “This year I wanted to get back to that feeling where we’re going to go out here and win.”
Doe has taken that message to heart as he enters the final stretch of his career, especially when it comes to special teams. It was a point of emphasis of his in the offseason after struggling fielding, calling off blocks and with confidence in spot fill-in duty for Jared Abbrederis last season.
Doe is averaging 11.3 yards on his 17 punt returns this season, ranking him eighth nationally, and has seven returns of at least 15 yards. All seven of those returns have set up a Wisconsin touchdown.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen had some concerns entering spring about how Doe would handle the full-time responsibility; worries that quickly vanished after watching the senior work in the spring.
“He’s been phenomenal in his special teams,” said Andersen. “He’s shown that this year he’s comfortable being back there. He’s still got a ways to go but when that ball goes up in the air, I think he’s going to make the right decisions. Coach (Bill) Busch asked him to be patient on his returns and when it comes his way to take advantage of them.”
He’s also started to make a small impact at a wide receiver. Already matching his receiving totals from last year’s injury-plagued junior season, Doe is tied for fourth on the team in receptions (seven) and caught his first career receiving touchdown against Northwestern.
“He’s been very productive through the offensive scheme and when he’s had his opportunities he’s taken advantage of it,” said Andersen. “He’s a tremendous leader. He has high expectations of himself and that young crew as they continue to develop. That shows in practice, shows off the field and shows on the field.”
Doe admits the numbers can be better, a lot better, which has been the main focus for the receivers and the offense heading into a critical stretch that will determine whether No.25 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) advances to the Big Ten Championship game for the third time in four seasons.
Starting with its matchup against Purdue (3-6, 1-4) tomorrow at Ross-Ade Stadium, Wisconsin plays four West Division opponents to close the season, the final three – Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota – being either tied or ahead of them in the standings.
With teams geared to stop the Badgers’ dynamic running game, Doe knows the passing game has to come through in order for UW to have a chance.
“Listening to the other guys, we all have chips on our shoulder because everybody is talking about the running game,” said Doe. “The passing game has got to be there. We’ve been working hard for it. We know people don’t really know what to expect out of the receiving corps but we know from the inside how we work and that we can step up and make the plays.”