MADISON – Playing through the death of his mother as a true freshman, leaving spring practice in an ambulance and battling through injuries as a sophomore, the trials that cornerback Derrick Tindal has been through in just two years of college have hardened him as a player and matured him as an individual.
So when tasked with trying to replace a three-year starter at cornerback, Tindal has a message for opposing offenses who are thinking targeting him is a good idea.
“I want to go to the League (N.F.L.) so attack me,” Tindal said, smiling. “I’m ready for the challenge. They’re a lot of big receivers out there, but I think I can cover them.”
Tindal has been a valuable commodity for Wisconsin since arriving as mostly unheralded prospect in 2014. He has played in 24 games with seven starts, owns 42 tackles, 1.5 for loss, one sack and six pass breakups and earned valuable reps a year ago as the team’s starting nickel cornerback.
“He’s energy is awesome,” defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard said. “That’s what you love about the guy. He’s high, high energy. He can go all day long, and that’s what makes him fun to work with.”
Except for a three weeks when he went home to south Florida after the semester, Tindal hung around campus throughout the summer to immerse himself in his craft. He’s spent time working on his conditioning and strength and focused on his tackling technique. The latter got him into trouble twice, the first earning him a trip to the hospital when he slightly slipped and went low on tailback Taiwan Deal (who outweighed him by 40 pounds) in April 2015. The play knocked him out and gave him concussion symptoms for roughly two weeks.
The second was when he was ousted for targeting in the second half against Troy last September, abruptly ending a day in which he had already recorded a career-high eight tackles.
He’s worked tirelessly since, in part because he wants to honor his mother, Regina Singletary, who died Nov.3, 2014 after battling cancer for more than four years.
“I’m just playing for her,” Tindal said.
So even when he went home for a mini break, Tindal would still get up at 7 a.m. to work out, lift and then go back out with his cousin to get another workout in.
“I did a lot of work to stay on top of everything, because I feel it’s my time,” Tindal said. “I need to step up and take it.”
Leonhard seems to think so, too. Through two weeks of fall camp, the first-year Wisconsin assistant has consistently kept Tindal working opposite four-year starter Sojourn Shelton on the starting defense.
“I’ve seen (the improvement) in just his confidence, his consistency and his technique,” Leonhard said. “He’s very athletic and he tried to get away with just using that all the time. He’s good enough to get away with it a lot, but not all the time. He’s learning to play with consistent technique, and that’s why he’s starting to make plays on the ball.”
The Badgers’ front seven remains virtually intact from a unit that led the nation in scoring defense a season ago, but the team enters the season unranked in both the coaches’ and Associated Press poll. Part of that could be due to the question marks in the secondary. Not only does UW have to replace Hillary, but the Badgers have to find suitable replacements for workaholic safeties Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy.
Instead of touting the group’s youth, Tindal spins it as a group of unknowns who are hungry.
“I see the same thing I saw last year, lot of guys who want to make plays,” Tindal said. “I just see a lot of focus from our young guys coming in. Some of them need to play, but me, Sojourn, Natrell (Jamerson) all have game experience. Everybody don’t know what we can do yet, all they see is Sojourn. We’ve got big things coming.”