Pressley, Walker ready for debuts

True freshmen have been pushed into action due to Dwayne Smith's heart condition

Either Chris Pressley or Jamil Walker very well could have played this season even if Dwayne Smith had not learned he had a heart condition that would prohibit him from playing football. They each have the physical and mental makeup to do so, but ideally they could have redshirted this year, getting even stronger, faster and more secure with being a Division I football player.

Smith's departure from the playing field, though, pushed both true freshmen tailbacks up the depth chart during fall camp. They share the Badgers' No. 3 duties, on the cusp of the playing field.

Jamil Walker
While the severity of Smith's condition came as a shock, Wisconsin has been preparing for the possibility of playing without Smith since he first began missing practice Aug. 12. So it will not look odd to first-string players if they look around the huddle and see No. 25 (Pressley) or No. 34 (Walker) alongside them.

With star tailback Anthony Davis leading the stable and a steady reserve in Booker Stanley, however, the youngsters will not be called upon often. They will play, however, both in Saturday's game against Central Florida and throughout the season, offering the Badgers production in the here and now, and a glimpse of things to come.

Pressley and Walker will certainly see the field on special teams this season. Each is a starter on at least one special teams unit and Walker is either first or second string on four special teams. It remains to be seen, however, just how often Pressley and Walker will be used in regular game action. Odds are they will see spot duty and be used during mop-up situations.

"I'm not expecting too much on the field other than just to contribute on special teams and help the team," Walker said.

"Most likely short yardage situations… I'm more of an inside runner," Pressley said.

At 6-foot-1, 265 pounds, Pressley is the ideal short-yardage ball carrier, a big back who runs down hill and can deliver a blow. Pressley, though, has the quickness to make cuts along the edge and is fast enough to cause teams trouble if he can reach the second level. He said he was timed at 4.53 in the 40-yard dash last spring, prior to taking part in a program that focused on footwork and speed training.

Walker's calling card is speed. He ran a 10.4 in the 100 meters as a high school standout in Palatine, Ill., and his speed translates to the football field well. Walker's hands are soft enough where the Badgers could use him as a receiver out of the backfield, in an effort to get him into the open field. But Walker is more than just a speedster; he is a solidly put together 6-foot-2, 215 pounds and could, with a little seasoning, run just as easily between the tackles as along the edge.

"We're trying to get him comfortable and trying to get him ready, you know, to see holes and understand landmarks and cuts," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. "He doesn't quite understand that yet but he's coming on."

Walker's height has complicated his learning curve. A long strider, he struggled to learn the steps Wisconsin asks its running backs to master. It is noteworthy that Davis and Stanley are listed at 5-8 and 5-10, respectively.

"It's a big adjustment for me because they're littler so their steps are a lot different from mine," Walker said. "I have a natural long step. I have to learn how to adjust so that the way I step and the way I move is the way that the program wants to have me run."

Running did not treat Pressley well on the first day of fall camp. When the Badgers began conditioning wind sprints, Pressley began laboring. Soon, he was trailing all of the team's linemen. For the last couple runs across the width of the field, Pressley stooped to the grass, flat-out exhausted, and was tended to by a trainer.

He was fine, just a little off kilter after spending a couple weeks back home in Woodbury, N.J., where he was treated to a few too many barbeques. He gained six pound while home and checked in at 270 when the Badgers weighed in the day before camp.

"I took two weeks off, went to a couple barbecues, and just getting back in shape was what it is," Pressley said. "I still worked out but not as much as I would have liked to. I did a lot of lifting, a little running…. Sometimes when I first start working out again, it takes time to just train my lungs."

Pressley's lungs trained quickly: He did not have any additional problems with conditioning and soon slimmed to 265. Pressley carries the weight exceptionally well, and has carried it better since he began working out with Wisconsin strength and conditioning coach John Dettman.

"I gained more muscle mass just to get more physical and my thighs got stronger and my legs got a lot stronger," Pressley said. "I was more upper body and he focused on lower body because that's what's going to hold you in the game. When your base is strong, your core, that's what gets you right."

Pressley envisions himself as a 275-pound tailback with 4.5 speed. He wants to break himself down to around 260 pounds, then add as much muscle mass as he can without losing quickness.

Despite not redshirting this season, Pressley and Walker still can look forward to a year of growth playing behind Davis and Stanley. The latter duo, along with Smith and transfer Brian Calhoun have helped bring the freshmen along, they each said. In addition, they have helped each other learn the ropes.

"It was nice because me and Chris became really good friends," Walker said. "Every day we talk, we help each other out in practice. We both struggled... it helps to have somebody young right next to you, going through what you are going through, so you can learn from each other.

"I'm looking forward to the future with Chris."

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