Aug. 6, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- When Wisconsin freshman Corey Clement arrived on campus in mid-June, he assumed that he was the No. 4 tailback since he was unaware that Jeff Lewis had agreed to make the move to defense.
"I thought he was still a running back,'' Clement said innocently.
Lewis had been No. 3 on the depth chart behind James White and Melvin Gordon. When Clement learned that Lewis was shifting over to safety, he quickly reassessed his playing status.
"I got bumped to 3,'' Clement said, "and 3 is where I'm going to actually get into the rotation of the game. I thought, `OK, the doors are slightly open, so it's time to kick it into gear.'''
UW coach Gary Andersen made it clear last Friday that the 18-year-old Clement, the all-time South Jersey rushing leader, was getting the first crack at filling the void left by Lewis.
"Corey has big shoes to fill,'' said Andersen, however noting, "He has a purpose. He came here for a reason. We're never going to play a young man when he's not ready, but that's the guy right now.''
Clement has always wanted to be "that guy.'' He said so 10 months ago.
On Nov. 2, 2012, which just happened to be his birthday, Clement stood in front of his classmates at Glassboro (N.J.) High School and announced his future plans.
At a pep rally in the school's gym, he admitted to feeling comfortable with a lot of colleges. He had previously verbally committed to Pitt before narrowing his choices to the UW and Notre Dame.
Clement shared the floor with three of his high school football teammates, each of whom was wearing a baseball cap representing his final three: the Panthers, the Badgers and the Irish.
After choosing the UW cap, Clement said, "I want to be that guy. I feel like at Wisconsin I could be that guy, and at Notre Dame, I would be just another guy.
"It's one thing for the coaches to want you but I felt like the (UW) players wanted me too. I already feel like I'm part of the Badger family.''
At last Friday's Media Day at Camp Randall Stadium, Clement reinforced his decision to attend Wisconsin. "It was the school itself, not just football, and the opportunity for an education,'' he said.
His schooling -- College Football, 101 -- began Monday as the Badgers opened fall practice.
"The first thing we've got to do is accelerate his reps,'' said UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock, "and make sure he gets enough reps to get his work in, so he's able to understand the offense and the expectations of what we need to get done within the offense.
"I think today was a step in the right direction. He needs to continue making steps each day. I think he's physical, he's big, he's thick, he's fast, he's quick to the hole and he'll continue to get better. When he got recruited, he understood that he was coming here to compete.
"The one thing we talk about in our (meeting) room,'' Hammock went on, "is that it's about performance, not seniority. If you perform well then you deserve the opportunity to play. He knows the opportunity is there and he's trying to take advantage of it.''
Based on his film study of Clement, who produced 6,245 career rushing yards and 90 touchdowns, Hammock said, "He's got one-cut ability and he does all the little things. I just liked his temperament and the way he goes about the game. He loves to play.''
Quizzed on whether he saw any highlights of Clement rushing for 478 yards -- on just 14 carries -- against Gloucester, Hammock said, "I saw it and he did what he was supposed to do his senior year. You want guys to have that success as seniors. Obviously that doesn't matter once you get to college.''
What does matter is that he will get plenty of mentoring from White, a senior, and Gordon, a redshirt sophomore. "They have a lot of experience,'' Clement said, "on what to do and what not to do and how to work, day-in and day-out. I want to take everything I can from James and Melvin.''
Clement is chiseled. He's listed at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds. Before getting to Madison, he gained some notoriety for a "Not So Basic Training'' video which revolves around an "endurance tire push.'' Clement is featured pushing a bulky tire up a muddy hill, a grueling exercise punctuated by a five-mile run.
During Monday's practice, Clement showed some burst -- and the potential to run downhill -- whenever he touched the ball in the non-tackling drills. After finishing a run, some 20 yards downfield, Andersen offered him a knuckle bump while Hammock gave him an earful on his return to the huddle.
"I'm just trying to emphasize game awareness,'' Hammock said. "What's the situation? These things can happen on this particular play and you need to be prepared for it. I was impressed with his first day. He picked up the offense pretty well. We're going to keep building and see where it goes.''
Clement knows where he can go if he wants some friendly advice: Ron Dayne, the NCAA's all-time leading rusher and one of only two Heisman Trophy winners in school history. Because of their South Jersey roots, Clement and Dayne have already developed a friendship.
Dayne was the single biggest component of what Clement described as the "running back tradition'' which sold him on trying to be "that guy'' at Wisconsin. Reflecting on his own prep records, Clement said, "It was important because I just wanted to leave a mark. But college is another big step.''
Before Lewis opted to play on defense, before Vonte Jackson began rehabbing from another knee injury, Clement liked his chances of contributing, to whatever degree, on the Badgers' offense. "My goal was to be a true freshman,'' he said. "I didn't want to sit.''
Clement made a point of viewing some Wisconsin game films from the 2012 season, and he concluded, "Not just one back touches the rock -- one, two and three do -- and that could be me.''
Andersen confirmed as much during his Media Day presser.
"I foresee Melvin and James being on the field together at times in this offense,'' Andersen said. "So there you go, there's one and two and you're one guy away from having that package with you. We have to have three quality running backs. This is a running offense. It's a powerful offense. It's a grind.''
Andersen feels comfortable with Clement at No. 3. "That's what all those long staff meetings we have are for: to make sure we're putting the right kids in the right spots,'' he said. "But right now we're expecting that to be Corey's show and we'll see if the young freshman is ready to handle it.''