Cornerback aims high

Ikegwuonu preps for present, future challenges

ORLANDO, Fla. — Growing up, Jack Ikegwuonu had plenty of opportunities to watch Barry Alvarez establish the Wisconsin football program and take his team to bowl games.

Now, the cornerback has his chance to help send his head coach out on top, as well as wrap up a solid rookie effort against Auburn in Monday's Capital One Bowl.

"Being in a bowl like this, playing against a great team like Auburn it's really exciting for me. It's a little nerve-racking at the same time," Ikegwuonu said. "Right now I've just got to live up to a lot of expectations. I've got a lot of people counting on me to do big things down here."

The redshirt freshman, who said he has been blessed with the opportunities that have come his way since he graduated from Madison Memorial High School, did not disappoint in his first season as a Badger.

Ikegwuonu was named an honorable mention Freshman All-American by The Sporting News after playing in all 12 games this season and totaling 25 tackles and a team-high three interceptions.

But Ikegwuonu said he is just getting started.

"I think I had a pretty good season," Ikegwuonu said. "I wouldn't say [I'm] satisfied, but I think I've done pretty well. There's still a lot of work to be done and there's a lot more room for improvement."

He should get more opportunities to prove himself next season. Senior cornerbacks Brett Bell and Levonne Rowan will be gone, opening up more playing time for Ikegwuonu, who this year has shared time with that veteran duo and fellow redshirt freshman Allen Langford.

Ikegwuonu and Langford have used their common experiences to bond both on and off the field.

"We have a really good relationship," Ikegwuonu said. "On and off the field we're really close. We're always talking, always communicating, always trying to get each other better."

That sounds like a pretty politically-correct statement, until the cornerback—who is still more than a week shy of his 20th birthday—continued with a major statement that bodes well for the future of the Badger secondary.

"We see ourselves as the future of this program, especially at the corners," Ikegwuonu said. "We hope to have this program rely on me and him to hold it down on the islands out there."

While that is a great attitude for the future, the Badgers will need some of that attitude to transfer to the field come Monday if the secondary hopes to be successful against a group of quality, veteran Tiger receivers.

Although Auburn does not even boast a 500-yard receiver, quarterback Brandon Cox has spread the ball around, passing for 2,187 yards and 14 touchdowns.

"Downfield, they have some vertical threats in the passing game," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "The key is to play sound defense and make them earn every yard they get and don't give up the big play."

The Tigers' three starters—Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Anthony Mix, all seniors—have combined for more 1,000 yards and 11 touchdown receptions.

"What I really notice about those receivers is that they're really physical, they're really big," Ikegwuonu said. "The quarterback likes to throw it up and let them go make plays."

All three of the Tigers' senior wide receivers are 6-foot-1 or taller and are not lacking in size. In fact, Mix is listed at 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, presenting an interesting matchup.

Ikegwuonu compared Auburn's offensive style to that of Minnesota's, though he said the receivers are more physical, including strong efforts in run-blocking.

Consequently, defensive backs coach Ron Lee has instructed the scout-team wide receivers not to be shy about knocking his cornerbacks around.

"Coach Lee's been telling the scout receivers to grab us and hold us and make sure we get off the blocks," Ikegwuonu said.

Auburn's receiving corps will produce a new challenge for the Badgers' secondary, both young and old. But the stage is set for the young cornerbacks to go out on a high note and establish themselves as what they want to be—the future of Wisconsin football.

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