Spring finale stings Hubbard

Wide receiver had a tough spring game Saturday after 14 practices of steady, impressive development

MADISON — The University of Wisconsin football team needs players like Paul Hubbard to step up in 2006. Hubbard, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wide receiver, enjoyed an impressive spring practice season, before a disappointing conclusion in Saturday's spring game.

"I wasn't too excited with my spring game," Hubbard said. "The spring season, for me, is going really well. I've been improving since day one and I thought I was going to come out here and have a nice game. But due to some injury and mental errors on my behalf, I didn't really play as well as I would like to."

Hubbard hauled in two passes for 35 yards, but he injured his ankle on his first reception and lost a fumble after his second catch. Plus, a first-quarter pass intended for Hubbard was intercepted by cornerback Zach Hampton and returned for a 59-yard touchdown, putting the Cardinal in a 14-0 hole.

On Hampton's interception, Hubbard had to adjust to quarterback John Stocco's pass, but he still had a chance to catch it. When the ball passed Hubbard by, Hampton snagged it with one arm, controlled it and sprinted to the end zone.

"I don't think you could fault that on (Hubbard)," Stocco said. "The ball was behind him. I've got to put that in front of him."

"The interception that Zach had, that right there is probably one of the few instances that we had a mental error out there," Hubbard said. "I said before, we had a couple of mental errors and we were good other than that. But Stocco had the ball a little behind me and I didn't play the ball as well as I should, so we ended up with an interception."

Hubbard responded on the ensuing drive with a strong catch in traffic for a 17-yard gain to the White 2-yard line, which set up Dywon Rowan's first-quarter touchdown run a play later.

"I thought (Hubbard) did some good things today for us," Stocco said. "He's like all these other guys, we've got to get more consistent."

But while Hubbard fought to reach the end zone on his reception, a defender rolled up on his ankle. He limped off the field and struggled to drive out of his breaks upon his return.

"It's fine," Hubbard said. "It just got rolled up a little bit. Just a couple of days, I'll be fine."

Late in the second quarter the Cardinal was driving for a potential go-ahead score when Hubbard fumbled at the end of an 18-yard reception, the result of a jarring hit from behind by linebacker Elijah Hodge.

It was a sour finishing touch for what was a pretty sweet spring for Hubbard.

"I move into the summer ready to go, (to) work on the things I didn't do right this spring," Hubbard said. "I've done a lot of things right but I've also done a lot of things wrong. I can start off by working on my route depths, working on my route technique. I can start off by making sure that I eliminate the mental errors that keep me back from where I need to be."

Hubbard is Wisconsin's biggest receiver and he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash prior to spring practices — exceptional speed for a player his size. A two-time Big Ten Champion in the long jump and a member of UW's 2004 Big Ten Champion 400-meter relay team, Hubbard has long been one of the football program's best athletes — if not its best athlete. Despite a disappointing spring game, he showed through the course of 15 spring practices over the past month that he has the potential to be an imposing presence at wide receiver.

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