MADISON – It wasn’t easy for Deron Harrell being the only member of the 2016 recruiting class forced to watch Wisconsin’s success from afar. At the very least, Harrell was getting to join a program that went 11-3 season and won a Cotton Bowl title instead of one that struggled to get by.
“It was pretty hard,” he conceded, “but it motivated me more that when I get up here to work extra hard so that could be able to play healthy next year.”
Now one of seven early enrollees for Wisconsin’s spring practices, Harrell is getting accustomed to wide receiver, a position he found out he would start at prior to the start of the 2016 season and was encouraged to dive into after speaking to wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore.
“He said he knows I am an athlete and can play a lot of positions, so he’s going to put me at receiver for right now,” Harrell said. “I think it’s a natural for me. I started on varsity my freshman year as a receiver. Once I get more practice in and more work in as a receiver, I think it’s something I can be good at.”
Harrell had a high school career where he was virtually good at everything, although no other colleges seem to notice.
The versatile athlete from Denver East High was an underrated find for offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and tight end coach Mickey Turner two years ago, as the two UW coaches worked off a tip to check out a prospect who was his league’s offensive most valuable player and a first-team all-conference selection at defensive back.
There was also good bloodlines in the family, as Harrell’s father, Damian, played football at Florida State and is a member of the Arena Football League Hall of Fame.
Wisconsin was short on scholarship room but the staff liked Harrell enough to offer a grayshirt offer, meaning he’d sign his national letter of intent in February 2016, not participate in any football activities the following fall and enroll early in January 2017 with his full eligibility intact.
It wasn’t like Harrell had other options. He didn’t even receive a walk-on offer from an in-state school.
“I’m happy the coaches believed in me,” he said.
Taking a year off was beneficial on two fronts for Harrell. He got a jump on his school work by taking eight online credits at a community college and got a chance to do workouts with former Iowa safety Jordan Bernstine, former Washington receiver Devin Aguilar and former Michigan State receiver Mark Dell.
“It was cool to work out with those guys and learn different techniques at corner and receiver,” Harrell said.
Although admitting it was an anxious year, Harrell – now proudly wearing his Wisconsin practice jersey – reflects that the time away mentally prepared himself to make the transition from cornerback to receiver and to physically prepare him for the skills he would need to thrive.
Thanks in part to his workout partner, Harrell is hoping he can now hit the ground running.
“I want to make sure I come out here and learn the playbook, learn the system and compete and work hard every day,” he said. “I’m excited to come out here, start competing and working hard.”