Visit to McCarthy's Hometown...........Kenny Mayne

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

UW football: Swan catches on

That's OK if you have underestimated University of Wisconsin senior wide receiver Luke Swan in the past. He's used to it.

Swan, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, came to the Badgers as an unheralded walk-on from Fennimore, who supposedly was too small and too slow to be a receiver in the Big Ten Conference.

So, when Swan went into fall camp a year ago listed atop the depth chart, it seemed like a nice story, but almost no one expected it to last. It was supposed to be only a matter of time before Swan was overtaken by one of two true freshman receivers, Isaac Anderson or Xavier Harris.

Despite missing part of camp with an injury, Swan not only held on to the starting job, he finished third on the team with 35 catches for 595 yards, an average of 17 yards per reception that topped the team. He also tied for the team high with five touchdown catches.

Once again, most fans figured Swan had reached his glass ceiling, as a nice intermediary complement to tight end Travis Beckum and deep threat Paul Hubbard.

But Swan defied the popular opinion again, taking his game up another notch in the spring.
"He's a better player right now than he was at the end of (last) season," receivers coach Henry Mason said in the spring. "He's really got a feel for things."

In fact, Swan was so good in the spring, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst started thinking of ways to feature him in the offense. Chryst took it a step further when he compared Swan to departed quarterback John Stocco.

"The thing you appreciate — and you try to get others to understand — you know what you're going to get (with Swan),'' Chryst said.

" 'Swanny,' maybe, is like 'Stoc' at quarterback, not real sexy, but you're going to win with him. If he should be open, he'll be open. He's a heck of a competitor. There are some of the same qualities."

If you're keeping track at home, that means Swan has gone from walk-on, to starter, to receiving a scholarship, to being a featured receiver, all in the span of a little more than one year.

The stability Swan and Hubbard — fifth-year seniors who spent all last season as starters — bring to the position is crucial with the recent news the Badgers will be without the popular Mason, who was hospitalized with back problems and replaced by interim coach DelVaughn Alexander for the season.

Not only do Swan and Hubbard have experience in the offense, they complement each other perfectly, along with Beckum.

"Swan, he's the precision route-runner," Hubbard said. "Me, I've got the speed, so I can open it up, I can blow the top off, give Swan some room to work in traffic. Travis, he's both. He does what he needs to do, to make the play."

Swan's face lit up when told Chryst was talking about featuring him more in the offense.
"That's a great thing to hear," he said. "That means he's got confidence in me, that I can be a playmaker. That gives me confidence to go out and make more plays."

Hubbard, 6-4 and 213 pounds, proved to be a playmaker, too, catching 38 passes for 627 yards and five TDs, but his lack of consistency was maddening at times. He was plagued by drops, a result of inconsistent route running and hands.

He didn't seem to change much in the spring, either. At the end of last season, Mason said Hubbard, in terms of physical talent, could be one of the top receivers in the Big Ten.

"It just hasn't happened yet," Mason said in the spring. "Right now, looking at him, you can pull 25 plays off the spring tape, you watch them and you say, 'He might be top 10 as far as receivers in the country.'

"There's another 20-25 plays where you say, 'I don't see it, it's not there.' He's got to be able to close that gap. He's got too many negative plays."

The other big issue in the spring was the failure of a third receiver to emerge.

Redshirt freshman Maurice Moore made the biggest jump, but he's a converted quarterback who still has a long way to go.

Anderson is a burner who can't seem to stay healthy. Harris left the team in the spring and returned home to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for personal reasons, but he is back and will be ready for camp. However, Mason said Moore has bypassed Harris.

Junior Marcus Randle El could be the favorite for the No. 3 job, but he was limited in the spring after returning from reconstructive knee surgery. The coaches won't know what Randle El can do until camp opens.
Courtesy of Tom Mulhern from today's Wisconsin State Journal:

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