September 25, 2012

Finding his way back

More news about: UW-Platteville | UW-Whitewater | Whittier
Brandon Wilcox had been away from the game for a long time before returning this season.
2008 photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com

Brandon Wilcox has been teaching high school players how to become better for the past three years. That tutelage made Wilcox realize that something was missing.

Wilcox, a senior defensive lineman for Whittier, has now filled that void. The Poets welcomed him with open arms back to the team and he suited up for the 2012 season after last seeing the gridiron in 2008.

"I've been coaching for the last three years, it reminded me of how much fun that I had when I played," Wilcox said. "My former teammates encouraged me. They were more than happy for to come out. I was more than happy to come back.

Wilcox played in 2007 and '08 for the Poets, but ran into some troubles in the classroom and financially in the summer of 2009. After having to leave school due to grades, and unable to pay his tuition, the young man steadily grew up. After a rough stretch of bills piling up and no apparent sense of direction, he found a warehouse job in January 2011. He punched the clock hard by working 10-hour days, 60 hours a week.

"It was a real eye opener," he said. "It was a good job, but it wasn't something I wanted to do the rest of my life."

One of the aspects of his life that he loved remained. He had a chance to coach the defensive line at his alma mater, Troy High School in Fullerton the first two of his three seasons, and at Glen Wilson High School.

Near the end of his factory job, he saw some of his former teammates and thought about rejoining college and going back into track and field and eventually football. He made an impact in track, as he set a school record in the hammer throw with a toss of 166 feet, three inches.

The thought of laboring for a living wasn't appealing for Wilcox.

"It is a lot different when you get into that real world without a degree," Wilcox said. "I let other people know if that's what you want to do, you'll be working warehouse and construction the rest of life. If you want to have that job that you like every day when you wake in the morning, go to school, finish strong and figure out what's important."

He solved what he was looking for. The math major will eventually finish with a bachelor’s degree at Whittier and will look into a graduate program and eventually become a teacher and coach. And he gets to finish on the gridiron on his terms. Life is good on and off the field for Wilcox.

"I definitely feel like I am handling it a lot better than I used to," Wilcox said. "On the field, conditioning wise, I am a lot better that I had been. School wise, doing better than I’ve ever done. Off the field, I have a great relationship with my parents going on and I am a lot more focused on everything off the field as far as academics and athletics."

Wilcox, an interior lineman whose main strength is stopping the run, will focus on trying to end his final season with the Poets by having some high individual goals and giving Whittier a chance for its first non-losing season since 2000, when it was 4-4.

"Personally my biggest thing is finishing the season," Wilcox said. "The biggest goal (individually) to get at least all-conference, if not push myself to get all-American. I want to be one of the conference leaders in sacks and tackles. I want us to win conference. If we can win conference, that would be amazing. The secondary goal is to at least Whittier on the map, we're not messing around anymore. Since I have been on this team, we have an entirely new attitude."

Big WIAC battle on tap in Platteville

UW-Platteville has been priming itself for this season. The Pioneers will have a chance to see how far they have come Saturday. Platteville, ranked 13th, hosts three-time defending national champions and fourth-ranked UW-Whitewater on Saturday afternoon in the marquee WIAC game on the schedule.

Platteville, which comes off a 49-19 win over UW-Eau Claire, has been giving scorekeepers serious workouts. In their first three games, the Pioneers have scored 157 points, the most in school history in that span. The previous mark was 143 set in 1970. The Pioneers are the leader in the WIAC in points scored and are second in Division III, only to Cortland.

"It's really exciting, but we haven't proven anything yet," Pioneers quarterback John Kelly said.

Kelly has been proving Platteville has been blessed at quarterback, as he was the backup to Nick Anderson before Anderson went down with an injury to end his season. Kelly has played in all three games and has completed 60 of 86 passes for 770 yards and nine touchdowns. He has not been intercepted, nor have the Pioneers thrown an interception this season. Platteville has been near flawless, as it has just turned the ball over once, on a fumble.

"We have to play how we've been playing, not turn the ball over and put points on the board," Pioneers coach Mike Emendorfer said.

On the flip side, the Warhawks rebounded from a rare loss the week before by ousting UW-Stevens Point 34-7 Saturday. Desmin Ward ran for 168 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown. Prior to the win, the Warhawks saw its 46-game streak snapped by Buffalo State 7-6. Warhawks coach Lance Leipold summed up the unfamiliar feeling.

"Disappointment, extreme disappointment," he said.

The Warhawks moved quickly to correct those mistakes.

"I think what we handled the best was taking personal accountability," he said. "We didn't rush to change anything drastically. We addressed some things. We had too many assignment mistakes. We asked 'Why are we having so many?' We made steps in the right direction."

Despite the setback, Emendorfer doesn't see the Warhawks slipping.

 "I think they just proved that they are human," he said. "It's tough for any team to have a streak like that. In some ways I think they are more dangerous."

Winning games in a row is something the Pioneers have been doing. Platteville closed out the regular season with four straight wins and now have been victorious seven in a row. Last year, the Pioneers finished 7-3 overall and won five conference contests for the first time since 1990. Leipold, whose Warhawks have won the past seven meeting against the Pioneers, has seen the steady improvement in his opponent, a senior-laden team.

"This team has pointed themselves to this conference season," Leipold said

And the Pioneers know who they are playing, but don't want to let the game get too inflicted based on the name brand of the Warhawks.

"They are nationally ranked, fourth in nation," Emendorfer said. "We're not going to flinch. We respect who they are and what they have accomplished, but we're not going to flinch. We are fully understanding who they are and the players are looking forward to playing Whitewater."

Behind the number

2,331

The yards Puget Sound receiver Adam Kniffin has in his career, a school record. Kniffin caught four passes for 62 yards. The performance broke the all-time record that was set by Mike Bos in 1982, who accumlated 2,312 yards as a Logger.

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Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith covers high school and Division III athletics for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wis. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and contributes to multiple publications in addition to his duties at the Daily Union, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He graduated from UW-Whitewater with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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