UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: 'Raw' talent Southward rounding into form

FB_110926_Southward_Dez.jpgWhen Shelton Johnson beat out Dez Southward for a starting job at safety -- in a tightly contested training camp competition -- Southward never once thought that he was getting a raw deal.

"Kudos to him because he brought it,'' Southward said.

Being labeled "raw'' is another deal; something that has been following Southward since he began playing defensive back as a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale.

Up until then, he had not played any organized football.

"I never played Pee Wee or junior varsity or any other kind of football,'' he said. "Most players can remember playing football growing up. Basketball is the only thing I remember playing.''

Southward felt like basketball was his ticket to a college scholarship, and much more.

"I thought I was going to be the next NBA superstar,'' he said.

Reality intervened when the basketball recruiters didn't knock down his door.

His stepfather, Eli Rasheed, also had a hand in pointing him in another direction.

"My dad always told me that my future was in football,'' Southward said.

Rasheed, a former defensive lineman at Indiana University, has an eye for talent, too.

He coached high school football in the state of Florida before breaking into the college ranks as an assistant at Florida Atlantic. He has been coaching the defensive line at Toledo the last three years.

Despite his dad's encouragement, Southward wasn't completely sold on the sport.

"I was kind of scared to play football,'' he confided. "Finally, I said, 'Hey, I'll give it a shot.'''

Cliché but true, there are no free lunches at Aquinas, one of the top high school programs in the country. Southward had to prove that he belonged on the field.

"I really didn't do much of anything the first couple of games my senior year,'' he said. "I really felt out of place. They had me playing deep middle, some man-to-man and blitzing.

"I definitely got it into by the end of the season. But I can honestly say that when I came here (Wisconsin) football still wasn't something that I loved to do.''

But his Badger teammates started to rub off on Southward.

"Seeing how hard they worked, how they watched film, how they worked their craft, I've come to love the sport,'' he said. "I want to do anything I can to get better and further my play on this team.''

But he wasn't looking to get playing time at the expense of his friend, Shelton Johnson, who was injured in the first half of Saturday's game against South Dakota and left the field on crutches.

"It was like Coach B (Bret Bielema) always says, 'Next man in,''' Southward echoed, "and that's how we approached it. I tried to make sure I was playing hard and there was no drop-off.

"I love Shelton to death. But if he can't make it this week, I'm going to be ready.''

Whether Johnson returns or not for the Big Ten opener against Nebraska, there's no question that the Badgers are going to need to see development out of Southward, a third-year sophomore.

"Throughout fall camp,'' said linebacker Mike Taylor, "Shelton and Dez were competing for the starting spot and you didn't know who it was going to be because they were both playing so well.

"They're both very similar in their speed and hitting. I definitely think Dez is ready.''

Southward is a naturally gifted athlete who lacks fundamental training and repetitions.

The best way to describe him?

Raw.

"When I hear that, I know that I don't quite have the instincts that others have,'' Southward said. "I need to have a little better feel for the little things in the game.

"Where I am now is a world of difference from where I was (as a freshman). But I still have a ways to go. I have to keep working on it by getting in the film room and picking Aaron's brain.''

Aaron is Aaron Henry, the UW's senior free safety.

"A guy like Aaron has a million snaps under his belt,'' said the 6-2, 200-pound Southward. "I just want to keep getting more and more snaps and keep progressing.''

Southward has put an emphasis on improving his mental preparation from practice to practice.

"I have to come every day with the mindset to get better,'' he said, "because I have days when I'm playing like a starter and I'm making plays and I'm doing everything right.

"But I also have days where I have a million mental lapses and I look like a freshman. There's nothing out there that I can't do. I just need to be consistent.

"I need to gain the trust of my coaches and teammates -- I need to show them I can help.''

The players won't need any help getting motivated for the Cornhuskers.

Said Southward, "The atmosphere coming into the locker room (after the South Dakota win) was, 'It's Big Ten time -- it's time to get locked in and focused and ready -- it's time to go.'''
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