Notebook: Doe confident as Badgers' kick, punt returner

Kenzel Doe has had issues fumbling in the past, but he also has two returns for touchdowns and thinks his best is yet to come.

Last season, Wisconsin's Kenzel Doe led the team with 16 punt returns and 20 kick returns. He also tied for the Big Ten lead in kickoff returns with an average of 26.5 yards per return.

Rob Foldy / USA TODAY Sports

MADISON, Wis. -- Kenzel Doe is capable of electrifying an entire stadium with one burst of speed through a gap in kick and punt return coverage. He has flashed those skills in two separate games during his career, zipping away for touchdowns at critical moments.

But Doe also has proven thus far to be a high-risk, high-reward player for Wisconsin's return game. For every touchdown run, the possibility also has existed that Doe might mishandle the kick and fumble.

It is a pattern Doe certainly hopes to break as he enters his senior season. Doe, the 5-foot-8, 176-pound native of Reidsville, N.C., has been named as the team's No. 1 punt return and kick return man ahead of No. 14 Wisconsin's season opener against No. 13 LSU in Houston.

"It means a lot," Doe said this week. "That's just my little deal that I've always loved to do since I've been growing up. To have that role, especially going into this game to be the starting punt returner and kick returner, it's really gives me just that much more confidence. I'm very confident back there. I feel like once I get that ball in my hands, I can do some good things."

Badgers coach Gary Andersen has seen the best of what Doe has to offer as an opposing coach. In 2012, Doe returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown against Andersen's Utah State team during the third quarter to trim Wisconsin's deficit to 14-10. UW went on to win the game 16-14.

Three weeks later, however, Doe fumbled twice in the first half of a game against Illinois. He recovered both fumbles but finished the game with three returns for minus-three yards and was replaced by Jared Abbrederis.

Last season, Doe took over punt return duties early in the season after Abbrederis suffered a concussion. But once again, he fumbled a punt return at the start of the second quarter against Indiana, which was recovered by teammate Nate Hammon. Abbrederis replaced Doe, primarily to fair catch punts, and handled the role for the rest of the season.

Doe missed two games last season against Purdue and Ohio State with a hamstring injury, and he said it lingered even longer into the season, which hindered him. A talk with wide receivers coach Chris Beatty, he said, helped to lift his spirits.

Last season, Doe led the team with 16 punt returns and 20 kick returns. He also tied for the Big Ten lead in kickoff returns with an average of 26.5 yards per return.

"It was tough just because I had that injury," Doe said. "Even though I came back, it was still bothering me a little bit while I was out there. I really wasn't 100 percent. I overcame it. Just had a talk with coach Beatty. He always said, 'Man, look, your time is going to come. Just be patient. When you make a play, you're going to look at me and say I told you so.'"

Doe's time came during Wisconsin's Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina, when he returned a fourth-quarter kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown to trim the Badgers' deficit to 27-24. The return, Doe said, gave him plenty of confidence heading into his senior season.

"Just because you feel like you can do it against an SEC team, which was a very good South Carolina team," Doe said. "You feel like you can do it against any school. It gave me great confidence. Come LSU, I'm trying to do it again."

Road trip: Andersen told reporters after Thursday's practice that Wisconsin will travel 85 players down to the team's season opener against LSU. During Big Ten games, travel squads are limited to 70 players, and Andersen credited athletic director Barry Alvarez for allowing more players to soak up the experience.

"We're going down a day early because he allowed us to do that," Andersen said. "I think it will be tremendous for this young football team to be able to just get in the moment of travel, get on a plane today together, understand that, spend a whole day tomorrow together and move forward."

Wisconsin's official football Twitter account tweeted that 14 freshmen would make the trip. The Badgers flew to Houston on Thursday.

Andersen hopes the opportunity for so many young players to see game week preparations will prove invaluable.

"There's no way to really replicate a game, but they can put themselves in the moment," he said. "I want them to relax. I want them to clear their minds. I want them to get away from football for a period of time. When we travel, we take care of our football business.

"As they say, they hay is never is the barn. I believe that, but also most of it's there. And you don't need to study for 10 hours a day right now and let it overwhelm you. There's such a thing called freshness. I expect them to carry themselves, represent the University of Wisconsin in a first-class way. I expect them to say thank you. I expect them to be appreciative of everything they have and play at a high level."

QB talk: Andersen has continued to refrain from publicly naming a starting quarterback despite reports that Tanner McEvoy has beaten out incumbent starter Joel Stave. On Thursday, he was asked if his comfort level with McEvoy and Stave at this point was where he expected when fall camp began Aug. 4.

"Yeah, I feel good about it," Andersen said. "There's ups and downs as you go through things. But like I've said all along, two great kids. I think they've handled the situation and they continue to handle the situation very well. We're as comfortable as we can be. Now what we've got to do is go out and see where we sit on the football field at the quarterback position, along with many other positions."

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