Kemp anxious for opportunity

Prized recruit enrolled early to take part in spring practices, compete for starting spot

MADISON – If you ran into Andy Kemp on the streets of UW-Madison, you might make a few speculations. You would guess that he is a student and a football player, maybe you would even guess that he is a lineman (his 6-foot-6, 315-pound size might give it way). But you would not guess that he is just 17 years old.

You see, Kemp could be in his final semester at Menasha High School right now. Most seniors would be finalizing their plans for after graduation and hitting the senior slide, but instead, Kemp graduated early so he could get an early taste of Badger football.

But if you ran into Kemp, you would probably think he had been in Madison for a couple of years already. He acts and talks like a veteran and has the attitude of a junior looking to fill in for departing seniors, not an incoming freshman looking to take over for one of four departing seniors along the offensive line, one of the toughest positions to start at as a true freshman.

"Offensive line is probably the hardest position to come in and play right away as a true freshman. You don't see that very often," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "No. 1, most of the guys coming out of high school are not physical enough, they aren't strong enough to play that position. In Andy's case, he is strong enough. The fact that he is here is huge.

"When I got the offer to come down early I took it right away," said Kemp, who met with reporters following Wisconsin's signing day press conference Wednesday. "As an offensive lineman you don't see many people starting right away until after their redshirt."

In any case, a player gets recruited to the Badgers for a reason, and they get the chance to come to Madison early for a reason. It seems that if anyone could ever start at offensive line as a true freshman, it will be Kemp.

"He's one of the strongest high school players that I've ever seen. He's been very impressive in everything that he's done," Alvarez said "He's picking things up very quickly. He's one of the guys we wanted to come in in January because it will give him a chance to contribute next year as a freshman."

At Menasha Kemp was a two-time first-team all-conference player as a right tackle and a two-time second-team all-conference player on defense. He was named his team's Most Valuable Player three straight years and was the 2004 Gatorade Wisconsin Football Player of the Year.

Much like any freshman, Kemp's first priority is just to do anything he can to contribute to the team, but he makes no attempt to hide the fact that he is at Wisconsin early to try to earn a starting spot.

"There's a couple things that I think I can contribute in. If I'm on the practice squad, that's a way to contribute to the team," Kemp said. "I know there are opening spots. The right tackle, right guard and left guard [are] open. And that's one of the big reasons I came down here. I knew I was going to try for it. And another way is special teams—if I can make special teams. That's all contributing and helping the Badgers win and that's why I came down here."

One reason that he will get the opportunity to start is the void up front for the Badgers heading into next year. Wisconsin lost guards Dan Buenning and Jonathan Clinkscale and right tackles Mike Lorenz and Morgan Davis to graduation, making room for three new starters next fall.

"It's huge. There's a lot of pressure on me. Just saying that I do want to start that's a lot of pressure right there," Kemp said. "But a lot of guys have been helping me in the last three weeks to help the pressure go down. It hasn't been too bad right now. I'll go to spring camp and see how the pressure is."

Even at this early stage, the young Badger has the presence of mind to realize that the guys that are helping him cope with that pressure right now are going to be the guys he is battling in just a few months.

"There [are] two other good right tackles in front of me right now," Kemp said. "We're training together right now as hard as we can, but when spring comes they're enemies to me. But, right now I'm going to try as hard as I can."

All of this pressure and determination from a kid who cannot even legally vote. His peers are back home goofing off in their final semester, maybe planning a senior prank. He is in Madison working hard for a chance to start for one of the Big Ten's best football programs.

But he is not prepared to give it all up. Asked if he is planning on going home later this semester for senior prom, Kemp responded, "We'll see what happens. I'm going to go probably."

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