Lucas at Large: Fenelus continues to grow into role at cornerback

FB_110909_Fenelus_Antonio.jpegUW coach Bret Bielema reflected on what he first saw in cornerback Antonio Fenelus.

"He thinks he's Deion Sanders,'' Bielema said.

That got the attention of some people at his Monday press conference.

But the key word is "thinks.'

Few players can measure up to "Prime Time.''

 Sanders, after all, was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For the record, Bielema qualified his statement on Fenelus.

"Every South Florida corner thinks they're Deion Sanders,'' he said.

More importantly, he added, "They've just got to believe that.''

The Badgers recruited Fenelus out of Boca Raton, Fla. Although he received few scholarship offers -- Fenelus picked the UW over Florida Atlantic -- there was just something about his makeup.

"Not to sound like a know-it-all,'' Bielema said, "I thought we'd get what we got. I thought he was a very tough player. Mom raised a good kid. Coach bragged about how hard he worked.''

But there was a difficult transition period for Fenelus to college football.

"I remember sitting down with him a couple of different times,'' Bielema said. "He thought that he was getting the shaft -- typical stuff. I just said, 'Antonio, stick to it.'

"At the end of last year, I don't know if there was a corner that was playing as well as he was in our conference. Because he knows his weaknesses, he knows his strengths.

"And he knows how to play within the system.''

Mostly, he knows how to compete.

Spend 10 minutes with Fenelus and he'll use the word "compete'' at least 10 times.

"The thing I love about Antonio,'' Bielema said, "he's a great competitor; really good.''

After Wednesday's practice, Fenelus talked about learning how to compete in the Big Ten.

"Coming out of my sophomore year," he said, "I made sure I competed on every play. That's what I lacked before -- just having the confidence (to compete).''

The 5-foot-8 Fenelus doesn't feel like his lack of size is a detriment to his game.

"I treat every receiver the same whether they're short or tall,'' he emphasized. "I just go out there and compete no matter what the size.''

That played out in the opener when he was matched against UNLV wide receiver Phillip Payne, who's 6-3, 205-pounds. The Rebels didn't hesitate to try and exploit that matchup.

"I knew they were going to target me just because I was a little shorter,'' Fenelus said. "But I just had to make sure I competed.

"I'm usually much shorter than the receivers. But I still make sure that I compete so they give me the same respect that they would any taller corner.''

Bielema cited Fenelus' ball skills -- he used to return kicks -- and understanding of leverage.

"He understands body position,'' Bielema said. "And he watches a bunch of film. That's why a guy like Antonio gets better as the year goes on because he has film to watch.''

Fenelus confirmed as much about his viewing habits.

"That's how I've gotten a whole lot better -- study, study,'' he said. "If you know what those receivers are going to be running against you then you've got a better chance of winning every snap.''

In the UNLV game, Fenelus was flagged for pass interference on Payne even though it appeared that he executed his techniques perfectly and had the ideal inside leverage to break up the play.

Bielema disputed the penalty.

"I thought he had every right to the football,'' he said.

So did Fenelus.

"But the ref told me that I was kind of cutting him off and learning against him too much,'' he said.  "The refs are going to win every time. I'm just trying to fix what he said I was doing wrong.''

Fenelus doesn't come off like "Prime Time.''

Until you ask him if he wants to be a playmaker.

"Most definitely,'' he said. "I try to go after the ball every time. If they throw to my side I look at that as a challenge. I try to make a pick every time they throw my way.''

Despite finishing second in the Big Ten with four interceptions last season, does Fenelus still feel like some opposing offensive coordinators believe they can attack him?

"I really don't focus on that too much,'' he said. "I just play to the best of my ability. If they want to throw the ball my way, there are more plays for me to make. That's how I look at it.''

One last thing. "I just want to make sure I compete every play,'' he said.

ON WISCONSIN