The Missing Link

Originally pegged as the tight end of the future, freshman Manasseh Garner's body didn't cooperate. Not wanting to keep his athleticism on sideline, Garner has started his career at wide receiver, and already become an example for the older crowd.

MADISON - When he gave Wisconsin his verbal commitment last September, Manasseh Garner was viewed as a Lance Kendricks type, a multi-talented athlete that the Badgers could transform from wide receiver to tight end over the course of time.

Problem now is that Garner has looked so impressive early on that the position switch might be on the backburner.

"He's fit in pretty good with that group," Wide Receiver Coach DelVaughn Alexander said of Garner. "I think learning the position and growing into the position, people are going to see leaps and bounds."

Garner has done everything asked of him since stepping on to campus, except give his body a growth spurt. He strengthen his body since getting on campus but at only 204 pounds, wasn't physically suited to start out at the tight end position.

"It would have been a smooth tradition to play tight end, but I always wanted to play tight end or receiver," Garner said. "It didn't matter to me. I just wanted to play. My body could go anywhere. If they asked me to move to tight end in the future, I'll be ready."

Playing both tight end and wide receiver in a five-receiver spread offense at Brashear High School outside Pittsburgh, the 6-foot-2 Garner had 27 receptions for 540 yards and 10 touchdowns, making him comfortable with his current receiver role.

"We use a lot of tight ends here and we only used tight ends in certain situations (at Brashear)," Garner said. "The transition in terms of blocking and how I can be a factor is something I am learning every day. The coaches want a winning team and anyway that any player can fit in and fill in the missing links, that's what they are looking for. If I am able to fit into that link, than so be it."

The missing link that Garner has filled in through the first two weeks of fall camp has been his toughness, bringing his outside linebacker mentality (where he had 60 tackles and six sacks last year) to the offensive side of the ball. In team drills, Garner was the lead blocker on a wide receiver screen pass. On the snap of the ball, Garner released to the safety position and knocked down his responsibility, bringing an intensity that has become lost on some of his position players.

He did the same thing Tuesday, sealing off wide receiver Jared Abbrederis to allow junior Nick Toon to gain extra yards up the sidelines.

"His toughness is the difference between him and the other guys that have been playing receiver for a longer time," Alexander said. "It's all about competition. If he goes in because he's tough, physical and aggressive, it's going to move one of the older guys off the field if they aren't going to be that."

Garner brings more to the plate than being just an H-back-receiver combo. He was named the all-city Player of the Year and chosen all-state at cornerback. He was lettered as a track athlete and ran a 4.5 40-yard dash.

"We have to make sure to expand his package and do some things for him to make sure he's not a decoy on run plays," Alexander said. "He's setting a good example."

The work ethic and chemistry has always been there for Garner, but especially increased during Strength and Conditioning coach Ben Herbert's offseason program. With three senior wide receivers and Toon, Garner has fit right up, soaking up enough knowledge to get steady reps on the second-team offense.

"They have been the most helpful receivers," Garner said of his teammates. "None of them are selfish. None of them are trying to defend their spot because we are a team. Every one of them has gone out of their way to help us freshmen adjust to the system."

Mention that there is less than three weeks to the season opener and the smile grows larger across Garner's face. His goals are simple: give his all.

"Every day is a fight," Garner said. "I am reaching for victory everyday, both physically and mentally. My ultimate goal is to win. To win against the scout-team defense and the first-team defense. They are my opponent right now until we go to Vegas."

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