Almost two-and-a-half years ago, a knee injury to star wide receiver Lee Evans during the annual spring game left the Badgers with a colossal void to fill. Gone were the 75 catches, 1,545 yards, and nine touchdowns that Evans had posted in 2001. With Evans lost for the year, Wisconsin began the 2002 season without a proven big-play threat.
Enter Jonathan Orr. The wiry redshirt freshman jumpstarted his UW career with a season for the record books, totaling 842 receiving yards, 47 catches and eight touchdowns. His yardage and touchdown totals were each the highest ever by a Badger freshman. At one point during the season Orr recorded touchdown catches in five straight games. Besides being named the team's rookie of the year, Orr garnered plenty of national attention with his performance, as The Sporting News named him second-team freshman All-American and first-team freshman All-Big Ten.
"We were kind of placed in a position where we had no other choice," Orr said. "We all were young, so we were kind of placed in there where it really wasn't an option."
Likewise, Darrin Charles had a successful season. After being used sporadically as a true freshman, Charles had a solid sophomore campaign, making 25 catches for 323 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Oshkosh, Wis., native capped off his season with a clutch performance in Wisconsin's Alamo Bowl victory over Colorado. Charles had five catches for 67 yards and one score, and made arguably the play of the game when he hauled in a 28-yard pass from quarterback Brooks Bollinger on a fourth down-and-10 late in the game.
When the 2003 season rolled around, the talk at wide receiver was centered on one thing: the return of Lee Evans. Once again, the standout from Bedford, Ohio, was back in the spotlight, and Orr was pushed to the sideline. In 13 games a year ago, with just seven catches for 117 yards, Orr failed to surpass the numbers he posted in one game against UNLV during the previous season (seven receptions for 150 yards and one touchdown).
"There are only so many balls," wide receivers coach Henry Mason said. "Basically, Jonathan took a bullet for Lee. But I expect him to come back and duplicate or multiply the numbers he had as a freshman. I don't think it was a step back, I think it was a step forward. For a guy to have the type of freshman year that he had and then be willing to sacrifice for his teammate who's now was a first rounder and now a big time guy in the NFL, I think that's pretty manly."
For Orr, while the numbers were not there, 2003 was just another season used for improvement.
"It was something that I learned to deal with, and it was a learning experience," Orr said. "And it gave me a chance to focus on other elements of my game, such as blocking and other things that I needed, getting stronger. So, it was for the better and it was a learning experience."
Evans' reemergence also limited the opportunities Charles received. Throughout his career at Wisconsin, the 6-foot-6 wideout has been plagued by injuries and overall inconsistency. Charles says there are a number of reasons for his troubles.
"I've always struggled with that inconsistency thing," Charles said. "Some of it has to do with injuries, and some of it has to do with personnel, and Lee being around and getting a lot of balls. And we've got some other great, young receivers who've stepped in and done a great job for us. And it's just kind of all those things combined."
After a year in the background, both Charles and Orr are fully prepared to step to the forefront.
"I'm just looking to be an all-around consistent receiver," Orr said. "As far as 2002, that's in the past. But my expectations for myself are to exceed what I did in 2002, not necessarily just by numbers, but just as an overall game to far exceed that and just to be an all-around better receiver."
Charles and Orr ready to break out…again
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