August 26, 2010

Special teams may open doors for Southward

MADISON - When it comes to football experience, Dezmen Southward is still wading in the kiddie pool.

Heck, this fall camp has only marked the beginning of his third season as an organized football player. Ever.

Having never played until his peers-mostly friends, family and coaches at vaunted St. Thomas Aquinas- forced him to do so his senior year, the journey Southward has taken is truly noteworthy.

From football no show to division one scholarship athlete, Southward has utilized his athletic gifts to his advantage in truly remarkable fashion.

"That's very impressive," fellow safety and Florida native Aaron Henry said. "We call that God given ability. Some people are dealt certain cards and you really can't complain when you're dealt the kind of cards he's been dealt."

Southward has freakish athletic ability. The kind where he can show off to teammates by jumping under the field goal posts and getting closer to touching his head on the crossbar than half the team can with their hands.

His vertical leap is a distinguishing facet to his game.

"One day we were in the weight room and they had a box set up I want to say as high as my eyes," Henry said. "He just stood there and with no running, just in a standstill, he hopped on it.

"He made it look easy."

But things haven't always been easy for the stud prospect. Rewind to this time a year ago and Southward was busy running around with the No. 1 special teams unit as a true freshman with a club on his hand as he recovered from a wrist injury he suffered the year before.

Eventually, though he would have likely seen plenty of action on various special teams units, Southward thought it was in his best interest to redshirt in an effort to let his wrist completely heal

In hindsight, that was probably the best thing to happen to the raw, albeit athletically talented, freshman.

"I only played one year in high school so that was big for me just to play scout team," Southward said. "I got to go against our offense everyday on scout team. I definitely learned a lot more. I feel like I'm way better for doing that."

Coming out of his redshirt season, and with a new coach leading the secondary in Chris Ash, the staff found a fit for Southward at free safety. Having only played football for a small portion of his life, and after having spent that time focusing on the corner position, the move was another chapter in the youngster's football book.

"My thing about safety was whether I'd be able to learn all the calls and checks," Southward said. "The safety is like the general of the defense. Coach Ash, Jay Valai and Aaron (Henry) have been with me and are helping me out. I've learned it pretty fast.

"I'd say I like free safety better. It lets me be more of an athlete."

During the final practice open to the media earlier this week, Nick Toon took a bubble screen pass from Scott Tolzien inside the red zone. Upon completion it was obvious Toon had a chance to score a touchdown as he was about to be escorted by a convoy of linemen down the field. Plus, it seemed nobody was even in the vicinity to make a play on that side of the field.

Toon turned up field in a dead sprint. Suddenly, like a flash of lightning, Southward bolted across the turf and met Toon at the goal line. It was a tremendous display of closing speed, even though Toon ultimately crossed the plane.

It just speaks to Southward's ability. He's always going 100 miles an hour, even if he making a mistake.

"That's the thing about football," Henry said. "No matter how fast you have to come to balance and still make the tackle. He had a kill shot on James White the other day but missed. He was just trying to go and torpedo him. Coach Ash got on him about that and coming to balance."

In prognosticating Southward's potential as a member of the secondary, it seems like he's at least another year away from contributing as a safety simply because he's raw and still has a lot to learn. But then again, he's made improvements at an alarming rate so it wouldn't be far fetched to see him get reps back there.

But with the season opener approaching, you can expect to see the redshirt freshman all over the field on special teams.

"Just speed, determination and getting to the ball," Southward said when asked what he can contribute to the special teams units. "A lot of guys are the same way. If you look at all our special teams and everyone on it, they're all fast and they're all guys that make plays when they get to the ball."

Like Chris Borland a season ago, Southward could potentially become an exceptional special teams talent. And that, in turn, would likely get him a couple of looks in the secondary much like it got Borland some looks at linebacker a year ago.

"He was running with our special teams at the beginning of last year," Borland said. "Then he redshirted. He'll be a great kickoff man and kick return man. You can't really waste that speed."

Henry believes Southward will make his name on the special teams unit this year and lay the foundation for the rest of his football career at UW.

"I see him making a name for himself on special teams this year big time," Henry said. "So in the secondary, all it takes and a guy goes down. I definitely think as deep as we are in the secondary this year is good with somebody like him backing us up.

"Time will definitely tell."



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