Jack Ikegwuonu may have initially had his heart set elsewhere, but if fall camp is any indication, he has a bright future at cornerback. After being recruited as a defensive back, he successfully petitioned for a switch to wide receiver and worked out at that position throughout summer conditioning. When he arrived for fall camp he learned he had been switched again, first to free safety, then to cornerback.
"I was kind of disheartened when they told me I was going to play corner but I got over it quickly after the first day at corner," he said. "That went really well and I realized I can be just as good at corner as I can be at receiver. I really saw that I can get on the field a lot faster at corner."
Get on the field quickly, he will. Ikegwuonu and fellow true freshman cornerback Allen Langford are expected to play this season.
"I think we'll probably play those guys. I just think they can help us on special teams and they'll be in the depth," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said, following the Badgers closed-door scrimmage Saturday.
During fall camp, both Langford and Ikegwuonu have been conspicuous via their relative invisibility. They simply have not made freshmen mistakes.
"I've been picking up on things a little better, watching from the older guys, and just watching film and trying to pick up on a lot of stuff," Langford said.
"They went out there and their learning curve was high and they went out there and competed and they didn't back down and they kept up," defensive backs coach Ron Lee said. "The first day was easy, just one defense, and then we started adding another defense and another defense and the more we added, they were still on top of it."
When they are visible it is because of the positive plays they make. Both Langford, at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, and Ikegwuonu (6-0, 195) have ideal sizes for corners. They each provide a physical presence at the position and have the athleticism to track receivers all over the field.
Langford is a particularly physical corner who does a good job jamming receivers at the line, something Lee attributed to his long arms. Ikegwuonu's best trait may be his ball skills, a quality he honed as an all-state wide receiver and defensive back at Madison Memorial High School.
The tandem was thrown on the second team on the second day of practice—Ikegwuonu's first day at corner. They have spent most of their fall camp time with the second unit, though more recently have spent considerable time on the third team. The Badgers have been rotating their corners in pairs more often than not, with seniors Scott Starks and Chuckie Cowans followed by juniors Bret Bell and Levonne Rowan and then the freshman duo.
"I think a lot of freshmen hang in the back for a few years and finally get to move up in the depth chart," Ikegwuonu said. "I think being high on the depth chart right away is really special and I really thank God that I'm in that situation."
Still, with four talented veterans in front of him and Langford on the depth chart, Ikegwuonu does not expect to play corner right away. Ron Lee, though, points out that particularly in the pre-Big Ten season, you cannot have enough cornerbacks. Not with teams lining up with three, four or five wide receivers on a regular basis. Compounding matters, Bell has not been able to take part in full physical contact during fall camp, though he is expected to be ready on Sept. 4.
"If they keep playing, well, we can't keep them off the field," Lee said.
Langford and Ikegwuonu are not taking their potential playing time for granted.
"I haven't been told anything yet, so I just keep working and keep working and hopefully I'll be on the field," Langford said.
"I want to be ready and if the coaches think I'm ready, then they'll put me out there," Ikegwuonu said. "I think that they're in a better position to judge if I'm ready than I am so if I'm ready then they'll put me out there and if I'm not, then it's OK. I'll just wait until next year and I'll be a better player next year."
Freshmen corners jump right in
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