Making the Right Call

After a highly-publicized recruiting process, Kraig Appleton felt that the Wisconsin coaching staff gave him the support he needed. After a highly-personal tragedy, Appleton's decision was confirmed.

MADISON – During the 2009 recruiting cycle, there were few offensive prospects that were as coveted, and as quiet, as wide receiver Kraig Appleton.

Helping lead East St. Louis High School to the school's seventh state championship, Appleton recorded 657 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, helping his team score an average of 46.4 points per game. A year earlier, Appleton grabbed 50 catches for 1,000-plus yards and 16 touchdowns, making him one of the most sought-after receivers in the Midwest.

In East St. Louis, the pressure to play for the home-state Illini is tremendous, as orange and blue clothing is as well noticed as the crime and poverty that line the city. Teammate and fellow wide receiver Terry Hawthorne committed to the Illini and many thought Appleton would follow suit, especially since he gave the Illini a soft verbal commitment last August.

But with every trip the Wisconsin coaching staff made to his home or phone call, Appleton became positively influenced by the support and dedication the recruiting team of DelVaughn Alexander, Dave Doeren and Randall McCray had given him.

"There was a lot of pressure to play for Illinois," said Appleton, who addressed the media for the first time since August 15, 2008. "During the whole recruiting process, the University of Wisconsin coaches were always talking to me – making sure I was on top of my grades, that school was going OK, things away from the field were good and just to check up on me. They supported me real well."

That support became evident as soon as Appleton came to Madison in June.

A couple of days after graduation, Appleton left East Saint Louis and arrived on June 12th in Madison to start his summer conditioning program. Back home, Migueal Paulette, Appleton's 17-year-old best friend who was planning on attending Syracuse after a year in junior college, was pumping gas at a local station when a stranger approached him, asking him for some money.

According to Appleton, Paulette said he did not have any money and returned to his vehicle. Before Paulette could leave the gas station, the assailant fired multiple rounds into the car, striking Paulette in the head.

Paulette was pronounced dead at Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital, just one day after Appleton left for Madison. A month later, police arrested a suspect in the crime, but Appleton was still left with a void in his life.

"It was hard at first, adjusting to the tragedy that happened," Appleton said. "Him being the good friend he was, he would want me to pursue my football dreams, go on with my life and never forget the good times and the friendships we have. I use all that to motivate me on the field and I am doing a good job at that."

Thanks to his new coaching staff and teammates, Appleton has made the adjustment. When his teammates found out about his personal turmoil, there was hardly a night when Appleton didn't get a call or text from a Badger upperclassman, inviting him out to dinner or just hanging out to help him get adjustment to his new environment.

"I come from a predominantly black society and coming up here was a big transition," Appleton said. "The guys knew the background I was coming from, that I was dealing with death, and they just welcomed me with open arms, showing me the great city of Madison. Once I got to know them, they weren't that bad."

Thus far, it's Appleton that hasn't been half bad, as the 6-foot-3, 202-pound wide receiver has not only impressed players and coaches with his demeanor, but his ability to make plays in traffic and have a natural feel for the position, two things that will be a welcomed extra addition to UW's receiving fold.

"Kraig is a very athletic kid," senior quarterback Dustin Sherer said. "He's a big body. He's come in and he's learning fast. I think that is huge for us. If he can just keep doing that, that's something that he might be able to go out and do this year. If not, he'll be really good in the future."

The only thing that has seemingly slowed Appleton's transition this season is a tweaked hamstring, which will keep him from practicing over the next three-to-four days, but isn't anything that will keep me sidelined for long.

Adjusting to the rigors of college camp and adjusting to a new environment, Appleton's goals have been simple in his first year – stay humble, follow instructions, learn the playbook and keep focused on football.

More importantly, he is focused on what his time at the University of Wisconsin can do for him.

"I am staying focused, knowing what path I want to chose for my life instead of just going back home," Appleton said. "Hopefully by the time I graduate, become a more productive person, a better person and make an impact. I am just a freshman and I am trying to compete with the older guys. I feel I am doing a pretty good job of that. I want to help those guys win a Big Ten Championship."

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