Brown hungry for playing time

first_imgJEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photoAs the popular saying goes, “It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”Badger running backs coach John Settle, however, has a different favorite canine-related phrase: “If he bites when he is a puppy, he’ll bite when he grows up.”The coach, now in his second year as an assistant at Wisconsin, commonly uses the expression as a way to describe his lineup of powerful young runners.The growing process for Settle’s crew hasn’t seemed to take long, as evidenced by the quick maturation of starting running backs P.J. Hill and backup Lance Smith — both sophomores who rank among the most talented rushers in the conference.This year has brought a new face to the ever-evolving running backs picture in Madison, as true freshman Zach Brown has quickly emerged as a player with, as Settle puts it, “eye-opening” talent and potential.It takes a certain situation for true freshman running backs to play at the D-I level, but the Royal Palm, Fla., native has put himself in the position to not only get playing time, but also contribute to a team considered by many to be as well-endowed in the offensive backfield as any team in the country.”Ever since [Brown] got here, he has been a great player for us,” fellow running back P.J. Hill said. “He caught onto the whole playbook really quick, and now when he’s on the field he looks very comfortable and confident — he knows where he needs to be and what he needs to do to help us (on offense).”For Brown, that has meant becoming more than the touchdown machine he was in high school, when he rushed for 1,062 yards and 16 touchdowns his senior year. That made him his school’s second all-time leading rusher, quite a feat considering the top-tier talent that comes out of Florida every year.Settles, who has coached multiple 1,000-yard rushers at the D-I level, knows what it takes to play as freshman running back in a system such as Wisconsin’s — the ability to block.”Usually the thing that separates the freshmen from those who play and those who don’t is how well they can block the linebackers closing in on them,” Settle said. “When you’re in a conference like ours, you’re going to have players who outweigh yourself by 30-40 pounds. Like I told Zach after the Illinois game, ‘Hey, this is the Big Ten, they’re only going to get bigger, and they’re only going to get tougher.'”Brown, who stands a stocky 5 feet 11 inches tall and is nearly 200 pounds, got all he could ask for with the Illini linebacking core this past Saturday, but he realized that even when he wasn’t the one toting the ball, he could still make a touchdown happen.”Football is a team game. When you are able to put other players in front of you, knowing that you may not be the focus of the attention out there, you can end up making everyone else around you just as successful,” Brown said. “If I do my job protecting [quarterback Tyler Donovan], then he can do his job and find Kyle Jefferson or David Gilreath for a touchdown.”UW fans are going to have to hope they see plenty more of that formula in the next couple of weeks, with senior wide receivers Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard both sidelined by injuries. Both freshman wide receivers are going to have quite an environment to “grow up” in this week, as the team must travel to one of the largest and loudest venues in the country in Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.Road games this year will be especially important for Brown, who must fill in as the No. 2 running back behind Hill. Settle said Brown performed as well as any true freshman he has ever seen, something he reflected in his weekly performance grades for his players. “Zach knew he was going to have to play on the road, and he prepared admirably for that challenge,” Settle said. “He personally brought it upon himself to call meetings with [fellow running back Quincy Landingham] to study film. That kind of thing is a very gutsy move by a freshman.”With another chance to prove himself on a national stage this weekend, Brown could let the inner beast inside of him out and finally take the bite he’s been waiting for.last_img

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