Freshmen tailbacks await their turn

Hill still nursing injury; Foster turning heads on scout team; Butler quickest Badger

From the first practice in fall training camp, it was evident the University of Wisconsin football team had uncovered something special in true freshman tailback P.J. Hill. Just five days into camp, however, on the first day of full contact practice, Hill broke a bone in his lower left leg.

Had he stayed healthy, Hill, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound product of Poly Prep in Brooklyn, N.Y., likely would have been no lower than third on the Badgers' tailback depth chart. Instead, he has been spending his first year at UW recuperating from the injury, bound to redshirt. During camp, head coach Barry Alvarez projected that Hill might be able to return to practice in mid-October, but Hill is currently still on the mend.

"P.J. Hill, I really thought that he'd be playing a lot for us this year if he didn't break his leg," said Brian White, UW's running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator. "He's a really, really physical back and he's got the chance to be an outstanding player."

Interestingly, the best young tailback in fall camp was expected by many to play fullback in college. He was even announced as a fullback during the Badgers' national signing day press conference in February.

White, however, always viewed Hill, whom he recruited, as a tailback.

"P.J.'s a tailback and he'll be a great tailback," White said. "He's really got great feet and tremendous balance and power and he's really got gifted vision. He'd be playing a whole bunch right now."

UW also has reason to be excited about Hill's teammates in the tailback class of 2005: Jerry Butler of Philadelphia and Dion Foster of Robbins, Ill.

"Our freshman class, we've got three great running backs that came in," Foster said. "Hopefully all three of us will be splitting some time."

Butler has been limited by injury through much of his true freshman season, but when healthy in fall camp he displayed what White called, "electric speed."

Butler is 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. Because of his lack of bulk some doubted whether he would play tailback in college, but the schools that seriously recruited him saw Butler carrying the ball. In his career at George Washington High School he ran for 3,350 yards and 40 touchdowns.

White also recruited Butler and he envisioned him in the Badger backfield ever since he saw him run a 4.28-second 40-yard dash at a Penn State Nike camp following his junior season. Butler ran a hand-timed 4.19 at another combine.

"He's a tailback and he'll be a really, really good one," White said.

Is Butler the fastest player on the Badgers' roster?

"If he isn't, he's close," White said. "I would definitely say he's the quickest."

Foster has gained weight and strength and is doing well on the UW scout team (see related article).

"(Dion is a) very strong and physical kid, got good speed and power," White said.

With junior Brian Calhoun established as one of the nation's best tailbacks and junior Booker Stanley a solid No. 2, the freshmen will have to wait for their turn in the Badger backfield. Sophomore Jamil Walker and junior Dywon Rowan fill out the depth this season.

"We are just waiting for them to leave for… us three freshmen to get in and just come on and do what we need to do," Foster said.

"It's a nice group," White said of his freshmen. "All three of them are really talented kids. The future's very bright at that position."

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