When Corey Clement showed up for his first preseason training camp with the University of Wisconsin football team he was determined not to act his age.
“Being a freshman, I didn’t want to act like a freshman,” he said. “I just wanted to play like a senior. That was my mentality. I don’t think you’re supposed to believe you’re anything less.”
Clement came to Madison last August knowing that two highly regarded veterans, senior James White and sophomore Melvin Gordon, sat ahead of him on the UW depth chart at tailback.
Great chemistry and production ensued. While the two vets made history — Gordon and White became the first teammates in Football Bowl Subdivision history to each top 1,400 yards rushing — Clement put up some tantalizing numbers of his own.
He appeared in 12 games — getting at least one carry in eight of them — and
finished with 547 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 8.2 yards per attempt while racking up three 100-yard outings and eight runs of 20 yards or more.
That output helps explain why UW followers expect the running game to keep humming this season, especially since the offensive line returns four starters.
White is now in the NFL with the New England Patriots and Gordon, fresh off a breakout season with 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns, is back as the featured ball-carrier for what could be a season filled with Heisman Trophy hype.
Clement, meanwhile, is yearning for the opportunity to be a go-to guy.
“Corey showed so much as a true freshman, stepping in and not missing a beat, that we have high expectations for him as the No. 2 tailback,” UW offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. “He’s competing for the No. 1 spot in his mind, so you appreciate that.”
Clement said he’s chasing Gordon and is motivated by the thought of one day catching him.
“Melvin’s a great guy to keep up with,” Clement said. “That’s what’s going to make me a better player in the long run. It’s finding that person that’s always going to make you a better person.
“If I was at another school, I don’t think I’d be in this position where I am (as a backup) because of Melvin. Why not follow the best guy in the country and try and beat him every day in practice?”
Clement, from Glassboro, New Jersey, has added nearly 10 pounds to his 5-foot-11 frame and now checks in at 217. His to-do list of personal upgrades includes getting better at pass protection and becoming a factor in the passing game.
If Clement wants a greater role in the offense, catching balls out of the backfield is his ticket. That was one of the voids created by the departure of White, who caught 39 passes for 300 yards and a pair of TDs to go along with 1,444 yards and 13 scores on the ground.
“The biggest thing we have to figure out is which one — Melvin or Corey — is going to step in and do in the passing game what James was able to do,” Ludwig said.
The Badgers opened preseason training camp Monday at Camp Randall Stadium. The split-squad format saw Clement and Gordon work with much of the No. 1 offense behind incumbent starting quarterback Joel Stave.
It was a year ago at this time that Clement experienced his first moment of enlightenment.
“The way people practice; the way we practice,” he said of UW coach Gary Andersen’s inaugural camp.
“Coming from high school, you’re the senior on the team. I guess you’re supposed to be the star player and you didn’t really take practices as seriously. You just wanted to get to the game.”
Clement rushed for 6,245 yards and accounted for 90 touchdowns during his days at Glassboro High School. Mixed in there was a 479-yard outing against Gloucester that set the single-game prep record for New Jersey.
“Here, you basically play a game each time we come out here for practice,” Clement said. “We do that in order for the game to feel like practice. That’s what makes it easier.”
Clement said it helped to have someone such as White — quiet, selfless and competent — to set the tone for his rookie season.
“James kind of made the game more relaxed,” Clement said. “He was one of the best guys you could watch on the field with how calm and poised he was. Even though he was probably the littlest guy on the field he played with the biggest heart. I can respect that.”
The absence of White isn’t the only change from last season. Running backs coach Thomas Hammock left for a job in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens and former Georgia running back Thomas Brown was hired away from Marshall.
Brown said the task of maintaining good chemistry among his charges — a group that includes highly regarded freshmen Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw — is about “the mindset of doing whatever makes the team successful, whether it’s taking 25 carries a game or running down and covering a kick and making a play.”
Ludwig said the chemistry starts with Gordon and Clement and he expects that will continue into the season opener Aug. 30 against LSU and beyond.
“I think they work great together and get along fantastic, pushing one another,” Ludwig said. “I think Corey’s pushing Melvin and Melvin’s pushing Corey.”