Kemp's adjustment? So far, so good

True freshman offensive lineman is adapting well to college football and quickly turning heads

On the second day of spring practice, Andy Kemp turned 18.

The 6-foot-6, 316-pound offensive lineman graduated from Menasha High School in December, leaving a semester early in order to got a jump on his college football career at the University of Wisconsin. So Kemp went through his first offseason workouts as a 17-year-old true freshman and opened his first spring practice season as the Badgers' second-team left-guard.

Opening his career on the second unit is not exactly monumental news on a team that has only 10 offensive linemen working in spring practice — everyone is effectively in the two-deep.

But Kemp has drawn immediate plaudits for his performance in offseason conditioning work and his impressive play early in spring practices.

"He's as far as long as any true freshman lineman as I've ever seen," head coach Barry Alvarez said Saturday.

"He hangs on every word," Alvarez said. "He wants to be good. I'll be shocked if he doesn't contribute this year. He really is special."

Kemp did not come to Wisconsin as a wide-eyed 17-year-old. He came prepared, having talked extensively with the Badgers' coaches about what to expect when he arrived in January. And he came with a purpose, driven to become the first true freshman offensive lineman to ever start under Alvarez and only the second to even play (Joe Thomas was the first, two seasons ago).

With his maturity in mind, the Badgers were not the least bit reluctant to give Kemp the opportunity to enroll early.

"After we talked to him about it, he jumped in with both feet," Hueber said.

Kemp showed that he could play above his age in summer football camps at UW, dating back to the summer before his sophomore season at Menasha, when he was eventually bumped up to play with the seniors.

"We didn't have anybody his size so we had to move him up and we had to move him up and next thing you know he's in there with all the seniors," Hueber said. "That was two years ago."

Now, a couple months removed from high school, Kemp is again playing above his age, and fitting in just fine.

"It's been everything I dreamed of, everything that I expected, everything the coaches and players talked about just coming true," Kemp said.

During offseason workouts, Kemp picked his new teammates' brains, so that he would be ready when the 15-practice spring season arrived. When, about a week before the first spring practice, he learned he would be playing left guard, rather than his customary right tackle, Kemp turned to veteran guards Jason Palermo and Matt Lawrence, who helped him with technique before he had even scrimmaged a down as a Badger.

"I love [left guard] right now," Kemp said. "I never played left side [in high school]. [I was] a little nervous in the beginning but now I know it's my position for sure."

Kemp's first full-contact scrimmage work came Sunday, in the Badgers' third practice of the spring, their first while donning pads. He quickly went to work putting his athleticism and strength on display, with at least five pancake blocks to his credit.

"He's got a punch," Alvarez said a day before Kemp's full-contact exhibition. "He's ridiculously strong."

Kemp came to Wisconsin possession a bench press well over 400 pounds, with a squat pushing 650. Strength was never going to be an issue. So Kemp said his offseason work was focused on improving his "tempo, explosion [and] flexibility."

"He's really conscientious," offensive line coach Jim Hueber said. "[He] was a guy that knew he wanted to play college football, spent the time in the weight room to get ready. His strength shows that."

Kemp, however, is more than a mauler. At Wisconsin's underclassmen timing day last week, Kemp said he ran the pro agility drill in 4.67 seconds and he covered 40 yards in 5.27 seconds. His quickness was on display Sunday, when Kemp pulled from his guard spot to block for a screen pass and took down starting mike linebacker Andy Crooks about eight yards down field.

Kemp has the ability to play guard or tackle and he was expected to enter spring workouts as part of a competition for the right tackle spot vacated by last season's senior tag team of Mike Lorenz and Morgan Davis. Kemp still could end up at right tackle, but Hueber wanted to give his linemen as many reps as possible in the spring. So Kemp has been backing up Lawrence at left guard, while Kraig Urbik and Danny Kaye rotate at right tackle.

"If I don't feel like we're getting what we want than [we will] put Andy out there [at right tackle] and give him a chance or we might just do it anyway to see if he can handle it," Hueber said.

So far, Kemp has handled everything the Badgers have thrown his way.

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