Calhoun ready to shoulder load for Badger offense

first_imgDEREK MONTGOMERY/Herald photoNov. 28, 2003.That was the last time Wisconsin tailback Brian Calhoun saw action in a college football game. When the Badgers take the field Saturday, it will have been 645 days since Calhoun’s final game at the University of Colorado.The junior won’t have fond memories of his last on-field action either: a 31-22 loss in Boulder, Colo., against the Jammal Lord-led Nebraska Cornhuskers. That day, Calhoun carried the ball 13 times for 49 yards and caught six passes for another 42 yards and no touchdowns.In fact, Calhoun’s last season in Boulder wasn’t exactly ideal, as Colorado stumbled to a 5-7 record and failed to make a bowl appearance. Which begs the question, with the opportunity to play for his home-state Badgers, why did Calhoun choose a struggling Colorado program that already possessed a glut of running backs in its stables?“I really formed a close relationship with the running back coach there, Eric Bienemy. [He and I] hit it off from there and the relationship blossomed, and that really helped me decide to go there,” Calhoun said. “It was nothing against Wisconsin. I just thought that was the right place for me.”The key word being “thought.” Calhoun has since had a change of heart, and Badger fans couldn’t be happier. And now, after nearly two years of nothing but drills, scout-team work and a few scrimmages, Calhoun is ready to get back on the gridiron as the Badgers’ starting tailback.“I’m excited. A lot of guys are excited, but [I am] in particular because I haven’t played in a while,” Calhoun said. “I just want to win. My last year at Colorado, I didn’t go to a bowl game, so it’d be nice to get to a bowl game. I mean, really, if we can get to a point last year where we were 9-0, I would think that I can help us win a few more games and get us into a Jan. 1 bowl.”A New Year’s Day bowl is a lofty goal for a team that lost more than half its starters from a year ago and is selected by many to be, at best, a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team. But if any player makes fans believe in a prestigious bowl berth, it is Calhoun. Despite rushing for only 810 yards his final year at Colorado, the Oak Creek native is already being billed as the next great Wisconsin tailback, mentioned with names like Bennett, Davis and Dayne.“It’s obvious I’m not built like Ron Dayne,” Calhoun chuckled. “And I don’t expect to carry the ball 40 times a game. But you know what? If they ask me to carry the ball 20 or 25 times a game, catch five more, return a few punts, I’m OK with that. I’ve worked all summer to get my body used to the kind of pounding I’m going to take.”But make no mistake about it: Calhoun is not Dayne, Bennett or Davis. The skills those three possessed are limited compared to Calhoun, who may just be the best receiving tailback Wisconsin has seen in the Alvarez era. In two years at Colorado, Calhoun amassed 339 yards on 36 catches, including 32 grabs in his sophomore campaign.“He can catch the football. He can run. He’s so fast that if he gets into the secondary, I’m surprised if you can catch him at all,” fullback Matt Bernstein said. “He’s just an awesome guy and he brings a lot to the table.”“A lot of the stuff we have done is because of him, because of the type of player he is. He’s going to open up the offense for a whole variety of things, and it’s going to be great.”That versatility helped Calhoun supplant fellow junior Booker Stanley as the starter. Head coach Barry Alvarez insisted throughout spring camp that Stanley was the starter, but after a strong spring, Calhoun entered fall camp as the unquestioned leader at tailback.“A lot of people think we compete, but it’s all healthy competing,” Calhoun said of working with Stanley. “We’ve been friends since high school, when he was at Whitefish Bay and I was at Oak Creek, so we’ve always had kind of a friendly competition. He helps me out, I help him out. It’s a really good relationship.”Calhoun will be asked to do a lot this year, from carrying a heavy load in Wisconsin’s traditionally conservative offense to being a top receiving threat. Despite the heavy reliance the offense will have on him, Calhoun doesn’t believe he needs to carry the entire unit on his back for the team to win.“We’ve got playmakers at other positions,” Calhoun said. “Owen Daniels is probably one of the best tight ends in the nation. We’ve got three experienced [players], including [Jonathan Orr] at the receiver position, so I don’t think what I do will dictate the offense. I definitely think I can contribute to the offense, and hopefully I can have a special season within that.”last_img