New Level Adjustment

Playing organized football for only three years, it's understandable why redshirt freshman Dezmen Southward has progressed slowly in the Wisconsin secondary. Through eight spring practices, however, Southward is making strides toward being a contributor in some form for the Badgers this fall.

MADISON - When Conor O'Neill committed to Wisconsin in October, he told the coaches that his teammate at St. Thomas Aquinas – Dezmen Southward - was a player that should have their eye on. The Badger coaches agreed after evaluating Southward, who was able to transform his freakish athleticism in basketball to the football field. Southward finished his senior season with 20 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, but quickly learned the different between high school football and the college ranks is bigger than a three-point jump shot.

Southward took the wake-up call by redshirting, allowing his mind and a nagging wrist injury to be operated on and corrected. Now a year later, Southward is starting to show some swagger and is looking to use his lightning speed as a benefit to Wisconsin on special teams and, maybe, in certain defensive situations.

Badger Nation: First off, how is your right hand? I notice that the amount of padding you are wearing on it is significantly less than it was in the fall?

Dezmen Southward: Much better. I went through another surgery right before the bowl game. I am about 90 percent, and I think I should be able to play without a cast in the fall.

Badger Nation: How did you injure the hand in the first place?

Dezmen Southward: My freshman year of high school playing basketball, I broke my navicular bone, like a scaphoid fracture. It's a small bone in the wrist and it's like hell to heal. We didn't have the money to get the surgery, so I just played basketball with it for four years. When I started playing football my last year in high school, I reinjured it. I didn't have surgery then either, so once I got here I took care of it. I couldn't do much with it without a cast on my hand.

Badger Nation: I guess that's one of the benefits of having a scholarship is you can get some surgery paid for?

Dezmen Southward: Definitely, because I couldn't afford two surgeries, let alone one procedure. I'll take it though.

Badger Nation: What has your experience been like here because really, this is only your third year of playing football? Can you see the growth process you are going through?

Dezmen Southward: Oh, definitely. From the first time I stepped on the field at St. Thomas (Aquinas) to now is a light years in difference. I am seeing a lot different things on the football field. The greatest thing is that I am learning everyday.

Badger Nation: Coach Cooks when he was here was surprised by your athletic jumping ability, which he said had to have come from your basketball background. Is that pretty accurate? Do you get that from basketball or have you always had that?

Dezmen Southward: I just think it's natural. If you can jump, you can jump. I have always been able to jump since I can remember. I don't think basketball gave me the ability to jump any better playing cornerback than if I didn't play basketball.

Badger Nation: It's one thing being gifted, but it's another thing to know what you are doing out there. Is that the biggest thing that you struggled with?

Dezmen Southward: That's the huge thing, and the reason I decided to redshirt along with my wrist. I felt like a year of just learning football basically would be great. Things that are normal to these guys or an instinct, I have to learn. I now feel that I am ready to go out on the field and help the team.

Badger Nation: What have you learned? What's the biggest thing?

Dezmen Southward: The biggest thing I have learned is basically the coverages, what it means to play in a certain coverage, the certain techniques I have to use in that coverage and what I have to do in the defense to help the coverage. When I came here, I just wanted to run around. I thought I could chase guys and be more athletic. I learned that it's not the greatest athlete that wins in football, it's the smartest.

Badger Nation: What was the biggest eye opener for you that made you realize that?

Dezmen Southward: Probably the third practice once I wasn't making any plays and I wasn't understanding the defense. I was getting behind in my coverages and my calls. I realized then that athleticism only takes you so far and I couldn't rely on just that.

Badger Nation: Coach Cooks helped you realize that, but how is Coach Ash pushing you to further use your skills?

Dezmen Southward: Coach Ash – in using words to describe him – is a technician. He helps me in every part of the game. He's taught me that it isn't enough to be bigger, faster or stronger. I have to know what to do with it and I feel like he's the best coach to be teaching me how to do that so far.

Badger Nation: What's the biggest difference between Coach Cooks and Coach Ash for you thus far?

Dezmen Southward: Both are amazing coaches and both know their techniques well, although both use a little bit different techniques. I think the biggest difference is Coach Cooks is more laid back and Coach Ash is in your face and an aggressive coach. If you make a mistake, you are going to hear about it right then, when we're walking up the tunnel at the end of practice, when we are in the film room and so on until you correct it.

Badger Nation: How helpful is that voice because even if you are aligned wrong, he'll run right up and bark in your ear?

Dezmen Southward: Definitely. Me being the person that I am, I don't mind that constructive criticism at all. I would much rather him be like that. At the same time, he's all up in your face when you do something good, too. It goes both ways, and I'll know he'll be there either way, which is big.

Badger Nation: Do you feel fairly confident that you can contribute in some way this year?

Dezmen Southward: Definitely man. That's my plan, to keep getting better everyday and be able to help the team in whatever I can. Coach Bielema hit on it that every player on the team should be on special teams if they are the right person for the job. I don't mind playing any special teams, but everyone who comes here has a dream of being a starter and playing on the base defense or offense.

Badger Nation: You came in here with a fall-camp wake-up call. Being here in the spring, do you feel confident in who you are as a player?

Dezmen Southward: I do. I feel like in the first eight practices, I have made strides everyday. I feel like it's the maturity. I have matured a lot since the fall. I just want to be on the field.

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