Calhoun nearing spotlight

A season removed from the playing field, tailback Brian Calhoun has been a standout this spring

In the days leading up to what was billed as a gridiron showdown with Minnesota tailbacks Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber, then-Wisconsin senior cornerback Scott Starks lauded the Badgers' forthcoming opponents, but also used the opportunity to heap praise on UW's runner of the future.

"They are definitely some of the best backs we've seen," Starks said of the Gophers' duo, "but we've also got Brian Calhoun on the scout team, who will prepare us.

"There is nobody quite like him."

For Calhoun and UW, the future is no longer quite so far away. After sitting out a transfer year last fall, Calhoun, a junior tailback from Oak Creek, Wis., has spent the Badgers' spring football practices working out with the first team, alongside classmate Booker Stanley, leaving behind his days on the scout team.

After running for 810 yards as Colorado's starting tailback in 2003, Calhoun transferred to UW last summer and took an NCAA mandated redshirt in the fall. ‘Sitting out', however, is not exactly appropriate. From the scout team, Calhoun relentlessly challenged the Badgers' first-team defense, which was ranked near the top of the nation for much of year, with his sprinter's speed, excellent vision and exceptional quickness.

"Oh, man, he's a very quick guy, a fast guy," then-senior defensive end Erasmus James said following a bowl practice in December. "When you think you've got him wrapped up, he's not wrapped up. He can jump outside, jump back inside and kind of break your legs. He kept us honest pretty much the whole year."

Calhoun treated practices during the week like a game day.

"It had to be just because I didn't have a chance to play on Saturday," he said. "And really I tried to over prepare them to when they come into a game it is a lot easier. I just tried to do the best I could and if I helped somebody anyway possible than that is what I wanted to do."

With the scout team a thing of the past, Calhoun has enjoyed a very strong spring, dazzling when he dashes to the outside, or darts through a hole between the tackles. A graceful receiver, he also can reach the secondary through the air. And in addition to tag teaming with Stanley on the first-team offense, Calhoun is competing for first-team duties at both kick and punt returner.

"I really want to be used in all facets just to help the team out and open up things for the receivers and the quarterback," Calhoun said. "I think I can definitely help them out in a lot of areas that maybe their backs in the past haven't been able [to do]."

Even if he is the Badgers' featured running back in the fall, which is a likely scenario, Calhoun would still relish the opportunity to serve as a returner.

"The thing is I think I'm definitely capable of doing all that," he said. "And I want to do that. It is definitely something I am looking forward to doing."

Calhoun and Stanley face a tall task in replacing Anthony Davis, who started at UW for the past four seasons, accumulating 4,676 yards along the way.

At 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds, Calhoun will remind some of Davis. He can match Davis' speed, but whereas Davis was a diminutive power back with great acceleration, Calhoun is a bit shiftier, not as adept at driving through tackles, and a much better receiver.

But Calhoun is not looking to replace Davis so much as find his own niche at UW.

"I'm looking forward to playing actually," Calhoun said. "I'm excited for the chance to actually fill in for A.D., but whoever it be — me filling in or Jamil [Walker] or Booker — it doesn't matter."

Still, comparisons to one of the most productive running backs in Big Ten history will be tough to avoid.

"A.D.'s the kind of guy that you see him, and the next thing you know he's gone," James said. "Calhoun you see him, he's not gone yet, but he'll make a couple more moves before he's gone."

On Saturday, Calhoun will get his first taste of competition with UW, when he takes the field in the annual Cardinal-White spring game, which begins at 1 p.m. at Lussier Stadium in Madison. A little more than four months from now, he will get to put the pads on for real in the season opener at Camp Randall.

"Brian is a phenomenal athlete," co-linebackers coach and special teams coach Brian Murphy said in December. "You talk about a guy that has track speed, very hard to tackle, changes direction extremely well. Can catch the ball. Great vision on the field — all those things that Brian has. He's going to be dynamite player for us in the coming years."

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