Even during the first couple weeks of fall camp in 2016, just a few months after Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor arrived on the University of Wisconsin campus, the signs were obvious that the Badgers had hit home runs with that group of freshmen receivers.
All three appeared ready to play immediately, and the future of that position looked undeniably promising after UW had struggled with wide receiver depth for a number of years.
“That’s what all we talked about really when we were together,” Taylor said. "This is going to be us. When we got reps together in 11 personnel and stuff like that, we were like, this is going to be us real soon. We’ve just got to keep working and stay humble and keep grinding."
While opportunity came immediately for Cephus and Taylor last season, Pryor’s path to the field wasn’t so simple.
Pryor became the odd man out among the talented freshmen and redshirted. As this season neared, he suffered a moped accident that left him with with facial fractures and two missing teeth, forcing him to miss UW’s first couple games.
He’s just now beginning to showcase what he proved capable of 15 months ago, scoring the first three touchdowns of his career over the past two weeks in wins over Iowa and Michigan.
“I wish he didn’t have the moped accident. I’m sure he does, too,” UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. "He was doing really well before then. It wasn’t like all of a sudden afterwards he started to put it together. We were really excited about him. But you don’t know how someone will respond after something like that, especially a young player.
"He just got right back at it. It took him a little bit, and you started seeing him make plays against the defense, and you’re like, ‘Woah, this guy’s coming. He’s getting pretty healthy.’ Then when he got his chance, he was ready for it."
Pryor caught six passes in a four-week span prior to his touchdown spree. His first career catch turned out to be a critical third-and-long conversion in the fourth quarter that allowed UW to run the clock out in a 17-9 win over Purdue.
Last week against Iowa, the first game after Cephus suffered a season-ending right left injury, he scored on a 25-yard end around to give the Badgers a 10-7 lead and came down with an impressive one-on-one catch in the end zone less than 8 minutes later.
You have free articles remaining.
He scored on another end around versus Michigan, extending a Badgers lead to 21-10 late in the third quarter.
“I feel good when I get the ball in my hand,” Pryor said. "Whether it’s a jet sweep or a pass, I can go out there and just make a play."
Pryor had that same type of confidence last fall and said he was even upset at first by the coaching staff’s decision to redshirt him.
After continuing to grow over the past year, however, he now understands he needed time to grow both physically and mentally.
“At first I was a little upset about the redshirt,” Pryor said, "but after a while I realized it was a good thing for me now because it’s paying off — getting a better understanding of the playbook, getting stronger, faster, things like that.
"I’m more comfortable in the playbook, which is allowing me to play faster than last year. I wouldn’t be so sure what I was doing, which wouldn’t let me play my type of game. My type of game is playing fast and using my speed. Last year, not understanding the playbook a little bit kind of slowed me down."
That trio of Pryor, Cephus and Taylor isn’t going anywhere for at least the next couple years, and true freshman Danny Davis stepped immediately into the spotlight this season.
Pryor still has less game experience than any of them, but there’s no longer anything holding him back from making major contributions for the Badgers.
“I think he was just kind of sick of not playing,” UW left tackle Michael Deiter said. "I think it’s shown up that he was ready to get out there and make an impact. He’s definitely always had it in him. He was just kind of held back by some (crappy) things that have happened to him.
"For him to bounce back the way he has, I think he was just chomping at the bit to get out there and do what he’s been doing. We just need to keep him healthy and he’ll keep doing what he’s doing."