September 30, 2009

Gilreath's feet still bothering him

MADISON, Wis. - When he was a freshman, it seemed like it was only a matter of time until David Gilreath would return a kickoff for a touchdown. He had an aura about him that made people think every time he touched the ball, there was a good chance he could take it to the house.

Now, two years later, Badger fans are still waiting.

And it might have something to do with the remnants of stress fractures in each of his feet that continue to bother him.

"They're definitely not 100 percent yet," Gilreath said. "But I just got to play anyway."

Since his debut season in cardinal and white, Gilreath has built a level of hype in regards to his kick and punt return ability. But, to this point in the season, the Badgers rank eighth in the Big Ten and 97th nationally in kickoff returns.

With punt returns, Gilreath and the Badgers only have a 19.4-yard per return average, meaning UW ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 72nd nationally in the category.

For Gilreath, as an explosive returner, not having full acceleration or cut abilities because of that pain in his feet may be part of the reason he hasn't put up numbers like he did as a freshman.

"I think the burst and when I cut is where I feel the pain the most," Gilreath said. "When I'm running straight, it's all good, once I get up to full speed or whatever. But once I have to stop and go the other direction or make a cut, that's where it starts bothering me."

Gilreath does not need much room to slip through holes on a given return. When healthy, he is one of the faster players on the roster and seems to possess above average field vision. But, sometimes he tries to do too much with too little and that translates into running laterally instead of north and south.

And with his feet not fully healthy as he recovers from the stress fractures, it takes a bit of a toll on him.

"It was in both feet," Gilreath said. "They're cool. I think structurally they're all healed up but I think its some scar tissue, or something in there that is bothering me a little bit. But, I think they're coming along good."

As a freshman, healthy feet led to healthy return gains for the UW special teams. Back then, Gilreath put up ridiculous numbers as a return man, numbers that set school records for kickoff yards in a season (967) and game (189).

He also led the Big Ten and ranked 14th in the nation with a 14-yard punt return average and set the UW bowl game record and career-long with a 60-yard kickoff return against Tennessee in the 2008 Outback Bowl.

In the Minnesota game before his bowl game showcase, Gilreath really established momentum. In fact, other than the loss to Tennessee, his six kick returns for 119 yards and two punt returns for 107 yards was probably the last time he has had much success in the return game at this juncture in his career.

"It seems like it," Gilreath, when asked if the Minnesota game of 2007 was the last time he had good success as a return man, said. "Yeah, that was my last big return game. I think that bowl game, the Outback Bowl, I had a pretty big return game, but that (at Minnesota) was my biggest one thus far."

While some momentum seemed to be building heading into 2008, it did not translate to success in the special team's department for Gilreath. That season, the Badgers ranked toward the bottom end of the conference in most return game categories.

So, to see the kickoff return unit rank eighth in the conference through four games, and with ailing feet, one would expect to see a certain level of frustration with the man in charge of returning kicks, but that is not necessarily the case.

"The guys up front are doing a good job blocking," Gilreath said. "I'm trying to run hard through there. Punts, we haven't got much of a chance. Whether that's me not having confidence in myself or maybe the guys or whatever……it's early.

"I think we'll get a chance to get a couple of big ones. All it takes is a big one and I guess the average goes up."

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