Worth the wait

first_imgGREG SCHMITZ/Herald illustrationIt’s often said that good things come to those who wait. For the Wisconsin football team’s pair of first-year starters at wide receiver, that adage couldn’t ring any truer.Juniors Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard are almost polar opposites on every level. Swan is a homegrown Wisconsin boy from the small town of Fennimore (pop. 2,387), just a short 90-minute drive west from Mad-town. Hubbard, on the other hand, had to really pack his bags, coming to UW from the more urbanized city of Colorado Springs, Colo. Swan was only recruited sparingly and not much at all from major D-I schools, so he resorted to walking on at Wisconsin, despite being a superstar at the high school level. Hubbard was heavily sought after and came to UW as a touted scholarship athlete — but in track and field, not football.The two are about as visually alike as Chris Kattan and Michael Clarke-Duncan. Swan (6-0, 196 lbs.) is dwarfed by Hubbard (6-4, 217) physically.They aren’t even similar on the field as receivers.”They are two very dissimilar situations,” said UW wide receivers coach Henry Mason. “Luke knew how to play, [he] just had to develop his body, had to get a little faster and get a little bigger. Paul was just the opposite, he knew how to run and could do all those things (athletically) but he just had to learn to play football.”Yet for all their differences, the two share an uncanny common bond.In 2003, both joined the Wisconsin football team as walk-ons, and have spent the past three years doing little more than practicing, with both playing very sparingly, totaling one catch between them pre-2006.Now, after three years on the sidelines, the two are not only playing together, they are starting together, side by side.”Last week we were in practice, and Luke said to me ‘this is crazy man, you and I were both walk-ons three years ago, we were down on the scout team and now we’re starting.'” Hubbard said. “We’ve got a really good bond because our freshman year, we were on the scout team … so a lot of guys didn’t really look at us as big-time football players.”Just being here with him and sticking through it, we have a bond together.”Hubbard and Swan are the last two athletes left out of a freshman group of about nine other receivers, according to Hubbard.”Paul and I came in together,” Swan said. “We’ve been together from the beginning, coming in as walk-ons. We’ve had a close relationship ever since we been here, and it’s been a good thing to have him along the road with me.”After three years of languishing on the sidelines, Swan and Hubbard have finally made it to the top of the depth chart, a journey that was by no means a cake walk.”It’s been a hard road, but a road that has really paid dividends for me,” Swan related.”My first year I was still immature, I was like ‘I want it now, I want it now,'” Hubbard said. “Finally, I said you know what? I’m just going to take my time and learn from the guys that are here.”Finally, my chance has come, I just need to capitalize on it.”Understandably, both receivers would have to fight their own demons about whether football at Wisconsin was right for them.”There were definitely times when you question yourself, but this is when you have to find within yourself if this is what I want to do, is this [my] passion,” Swan said. “I realized that football is a passion. I love to do this.””A lot of times I really considered [walking away]. I’ve never quit anything in my life and I don’t plan on doing it now, but there were times where I was like ‘Man, I don’t know if I want to do this, I don’t know how it’s going to turn out or pan out,'” echoed Hubbard, who credits his track coaches and teammates for pushing him to stick with football and believing that he could become the explosive receiver he is today.While most players would rather submit themselves to an origami concentration camp than wait three years before getting a real chance to show what they could do on game day, there were positives to sitting, the most important being the opportunity both players had to learn from future NFL receivers Lee Evans, Jonathan Orr and Brandon Williams.”Playing under guys like Lee Evans and Brandon Williams, you really learn from their tutelage,” said Swan. “It definitely goes against your competitive nature, because anybody that comes here wants to play. But you just have to come in here and understand your role at that time.”In fact, even today the receivers still learn from their predecessors, as they are constantly in contact with the Badger alums. Hubbard created a close bond with Orr, as the two share thoughts about things both on and off the turf.”There were a lot of times that I’d go to Jonathan Orr, he’s ‘preacher man’ basically, and he’s really in touch with God, he’s got a lot of faith and I go to him with all my problems, not just football,” Hubbard said. “If I have something to talk about, he responds and if he doesn’t have an answer right away, he goes home and thinks about it and takes his time … he goes out of his way for us.”With Orr gone, Hubbard noted that Swan has somewhat taken over the role of spiritual leader for Wisconsin.”He’s really deep into the faith, he’s a guy who’s like Jonathan Orr on and off the field. We can go to him with some problems too, because he’s just like [Orr].”The two receivers have paid their dues, playing for the practice squads and participating in countless practices over three years without any real hope of seeing significant playing time.Now it’s their time and they aren’t wasting it. In the Badgers’ first two games, Swan and Hubbard have been weapons on the field for Wisconsin and have helped move along the still-inexperienced UW passing game.”Luke Swan did a great job getting his first couple catches and being able to convert that into positive yardage for us,” head coach Bret Bielema said Monday, a couple days after Swan caught three balls for 49 yards against Western Illinois. The complete effort he gave, as he also delivered several key blocks on running plays, earned him UW’s Offensive MVP of the week.Hubbard has shown his big-play ability, and currently leads the Badgers in receiving with five catches for 105 yards; a 21.2 yard average. However, he can only remember the three drops that plagued him from Saturday’s contest.”If it touches your hands, you should make the play, that’s the way all receivers look at it,” expressed Hubbard. “People come up and ask me ‘How many catches did you have?’ I really don’t know, but I know I have three drops and that’s what I tell them.”For all their early successes, however, both still feel they have a lot to prove. Hubbard, a Big Ten champion in the long jump in 2003, has been fighting since his first days on the field to get rid of the label that he is a “track guy” instead of a football player.”A lot of people look at me as a track guy, even into this year, [saying] ‘He’s not going to go out there and make the plays a regular receiver would’ and ‘I don’t know if he’s going to be able to take hits,'” said Hubbard, who believes he took a step toward disproving that thought when he got clocked by at Western Illinois defender last weekend, but held onto the ball. “I just wanted everybody to know that I was still out there to play football. I had to show them that I was tough and I could take those hits.”Swan had to prove a much more serious fact: that he was worthy of a scholarship.And now, Swan has finally been awarded a scholarship.”Man, I was jacked up, I was excited,” Swan said of starting for the first time as a scholarship player. “I couldn’t wait to be out there and compete and do what I love to do.”But now, the players have more to prove. They are set out to prove that they are the right guys to carry the torch as the next great Badger receivers.”But we aren’t all the way done yet,” Hubbard stated. “We’ve still got a whole season ahead of us. If we work hard, I think we definitely will be satisfied at the end of the season.””When you start catching eight, nine balls a game and start helping each other out on the field, then you can start to say [that they compliment each other well on the field], but I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” Mason said, before adding the words that probably could best sum up the careers thus far of Swan and Hubbard. “Still room to grow, you know?”All it takes is time. At least now, they don’t have to wait on the sidelines.last_img

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