Senior wide receiver Richard Kirtley could not have been more excited to see the second week of practice this season, especially since he participated in it without having a crutch under each arm.
Practicing in his first fall camp since his redshirt freshman season, Kirtley, a fifth-year senior from Crete, Illinois, is understandably sticking out amidst in the youth movement known as the Wisconsin wide receivers.
"He has done enough to definitely be recognized," wide receiver coach DelVaughn Alexander said. "He's caught the ball; he's been out there and competed against the ones. He's healthy for the first time, while in past years he's been injured and has had to stop and start from where he was going. He's done a really good job."
After playing in five games, but not lettering, his redshirt freshman season, Kirtley tore his ACL at the end of the first week of the 2007 fall camp, forcing him to miss the entire season, and severely pulled his hamstring on the third day of the 08 fall camp. When he returned two weeks later, UW had already determined the depth at the position, putting Kirtley out of the rotation for the second consecutive year.
"Once I got to the second week of camp (this year), it was new territory for me," Kirtley laughed. "I hoped it was smooth sailing from there."
Using the depth chart as a starting point, and giving him a little chip on the shoulder, Kirtley is playing some of his best football, regardless of what has been dictated by his past health. Using his experience and decent speed, Kirtley is a solid possession receiver, knowing the routes that work against certain defenses, causing match-up problems in the secondary and being a real asset on timing routes.
"I didn't have too strong of a spring in my eyes, so my goal was focusing on coming out and catching the ball and doing the right routes," Kirtley said. "I have been in the offense so long that knowing the offense isn't the problem. It's all about being more consistent in my play."
More importantly, being one of two fifth-year senior wide receivers (T.J. Theus being the other), Kirtley sees his role also being a coach, taking the younger players aside and teaching them the keys to the offense, routes and pointers that would lead to the overall successful of the group.
"Being one of the older guys, we have a lot of talent at wide receiver with Kraig Appleton, Isaac Anderson and Nick Toon, my role is to help out the younger guys and learn the offense," Kirtley said. "I am trying to help everybody learn the offense and become more consistent in my play to lead by example."
While his name is still vacant from the Wisconsin's two-deep depth chart heading into its season opener September 5 against Northern Illinois, the Badgers still have Kirtley as a mentor on the sidelines, a big reason he was one of four walk-on players that Head Coach Bret Bielema awarded a scholarship Monday night.
For the first time in three years, Wisconsin can also utilize his experience on the field.
"My goal is to do the best I can to move up on the depth chart and get some playing time," Kirtley said "That shows the younger guys how to work hard, try to do the right thing and be more consistent in your play. Hopefully, the younger guys will be able to pass that along as they get older."