October 8, 2008

Gilreath making strides at wide receiver

MADISON, Wis. - David Gilreath walked into the McClain Center media room Tuesday night following practice and promptly took a seat on one of the multiple tables lined up in front of the whiteboard. A sweat ring was clearly visible through his shoulder pads, marking one sure sign he endured a tough, physical practice leading up to this weeks game against No. 6 Penn State.

As the first team in Big Ten history to start off the conference slate facing annual contenders Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, the Badgers once promising season has taken a turn for the worse. Sitting at 3-2 overall and 0-2 in conference play following two crushing defeats, the Badgers need to get back to their early winning ways.

"I thought last game (Ohio State) was kind of a do or die," Gilreath said. "But it's kind of hard to go undefeated in the Big Ten, so I think this game's a do or die."

One of the most daunting themes to develop through those first five games that has caused offensive shortcomings, has been the inconsistency of the wide receiving groups. Starting with the collapse at the "Big House," UW receivers dropped approximately seven very catchable balls. In fact, two of those balls went right through the hands of Badger receivers and wound up being intercepted.

"It hurts," UW receiving coach DelVaughn Alexander said regarding dropped balls Tuesday night. "You don't want to do anything that rattles them or make some lose their confidence, so you just go back to the drawing board and you try to keep working and working to improve."

Coincidentally, the consistent drops plaguing current UW receivers was first noticed against the Badgers upcoming opponent a year ago in Happy Valley. Trailing 10-7 to Penn State in front of an electric crowd, quarterback Tyler Donovan dropped back and delivered a pass to an open Gilreath across the middle.

The problem was, the true freshman at the time, let it slip right through his hands and popped it up into the air for the piece of cake interception. The Badgers never bounced back and were trounced 38-7. Needless to say, this match up against the Nittany Lions means a little more for the 5-foot-11 sophomore.

"I think I got something to prove against Penn State," he said. "I had that one game last year that I dropped the ball across the middle, it kind of doesn't go away."

Counting that dropped pass, and at least one against Michigan, Gilreath may have had enough with dropping passes and began learning from his mistakes. That educational process could mold him into becoming one of UW's offensive playmakers to coincide with Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham.

Late in UW's loss to Michigan, Gilreath made an acrobatic catch for a touchdown that gave the Badgers an opportunity to tie the game with a two-point conversion. He rode that momentum into last week's game against Ohio State, where he racked up 102 all- purpose yards (kick return, punt return, rushing and receiving). While that number is modest at best, it shows he is in the game plan and could be developing into the unit's leader, something that is desperately needed among the young group.

"I mean you could say that I guess," Gilreath shyly said. "I try to lead by example. I'm not really a vocal leader at all. (If) the guys look at me like a leader, I'm cool with taking that role."

Throughout his season and a half career, Gilreath has already established himself as one of the premier punt and kickoff return threats in the conference, ranking 2nd in kick return yardage in the Big Ten. He has already topped the 1,000-yard mark in that same category over his short career and nearly broke multiple returns for touchdowns.

"I like to touch the ball," Gilreath said. "It doesn't matter whatever way."

His receiving numbers have also improved from a year ago, where he only notched one reception on the season. So far in 2008, the Minnesota native leads the team in receptions (14) and yards (167). Come Saturday, with receivers coming into Camp Randall the caliber of Penn State's, one can only expect an elevated performance from UW's multi-faceted receiving threat.

"Yeah, competition wise you try to go out there and show your thing," Gilreath said. "Last year, it was more like kick return and punt return. For me, I was like, 'What's that guy doing, I'll try to beat him out.'

"I think the receivers will try to step their game up a little bit more."

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