Milton's Hammon becomes key contributor for Badgers
MADISON--Nate Hammon's belief that he would eventually contribute to Wisconsin's success on the football field never wavered.
But the redshirt freshman from Milton High School didn't have a clue he would play so much so soon.
And he certainly didn't envision himself contributing at safety.
“Realistically, I didn't think I was going to play right away,” Hammon said. “I thought I would be a special-teams guy, if that.”
Yet Hammon has found a home at safety in the sub packages of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and should get more work when UW (6-2) hosts BYU (6-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“He's continually moving upward and probably faster than anticipated by myself,” UW coach Gary Andersen said, lauding the work of safeties coach Bill Busch. “I said this before, I think coach Busch does a tremendous job of taking kids that are athletic and have a care factor and the want-to and the love for the game of football and putting them at safety and allowing them to grow and develop.
“The bottom line is Nate's bought into that. … I'm glad he's on our team.”
Hammon's numbers are modest: 11 total tackles—seven on defense and four on special teams—including a sack against Northwestern.
But his contribution on a critical fourth-down stop last week in the victory over Iowa demonstrated his progress since camp and his continued transformation from a high school quarterback.
Hammon, listed at 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, passed for 2,077 yards and rushed for 819 yards as a senior at Milton. He told the UW staff, led at the time by Bret Bielema, he wanted to stay at quarterback. UW, which was pursuing other prospects, wasn't interested.
Hammon decided he would attend Illinois State to play quarterback. When a UW target committed to another school, the staff eventually came back with a scholarship offer for Hammon—as an athlete. That meant his position was to be determined. Hammon first worked at safety in the summer of 2012 but switched to wide receiver after a week. Aranda, looking for more speed at safety, moved Hammon back to safety.
When camp opened in August, Hammon was at the back of the line with the third and fourth safety pairings.
“I just kept grinding and asking questions,” he said.
Hammon's first big break came in Week 3 at Arizona State when he was on the field for about 50 plays and recorded a pair of tackles.
“I can cover people,” said Hammon, who never played defense in high school. “I can run. It is just tackling.”
Yet Hammon showed aggressiveness when he sacked Northwestern's Trevor Siemian in the first half of UW's 35-6 victory. Then last week against Iowa, Hammon was on the field with the Hawkeyes facing fourth-and-1 from the UW 35 and trying to wipe out a 7-6, third-quarter deficit.
Hammon attacked the line of scrimmage and took out the legs of fullback Macon Plewa, listed at 6-2 and 245 pounds. That clogged the hole and allowed linebacker Marcus Trotter to stuff tailback Mark Weisman in the hole for a 1-yard loss, with help from safety Dezmen Southward.
“I think he was really a huge reason we got that stop because he took out the fullback,” Southward said. “You take the fullback out and the running back has no one to lead up into the hole. So it allowed the gap to be really compressed and we all just converged on it.”
Hammon smiled when asked about the play because he has not excelled in those situations in practice.
“Coach Busch always says when you get in those short-yardage situations you've got to make quick decisions,” Hammon said. “I've gotten beat so many times on those short-yardage plays in practice where I just hesitate. That time I just threw it in there and just tried blowing it up.”
The UW staff is happy to have Hammon, but the redshirt freshman remembers after he signed with UW the reaction on the Internet among some fans wasn't as welcoming.
“Coming in here I would always read things about how I wasn't going to play ever,” he said “wasted scholarship.
“You see that sort of stuff and you think: 'You don't know me. You don't know how hard I work.'
“I'm just trying to prove 'em all wrong.”