Wisconsin wide receiver Kraig Appleton believes in the power of positive thinking.
The true freshman from East St. Louis, Ill., came to Wisconsin ranked by Scout.com as the 19th best receiver in the nation, but pulled both hamstrings in fall camp and found himself on the sidelines for much of the first half of the season as he struggled to learn the playbook. Frustrated, Appleton began to question whether redshirting might have been a wiser decision than trying to find playing time among an already deep wide receiver corps.
""It was that thought in the back of my mind making me feel that I wasted a year because the season was coming to the end,"" Appleton said. ""But I stuck with it and starting thinking positive about things, and then my time came and I was there to make the most of my opportunity.""
Appleton finally got his opportunity Saturday in Wisconsin's 37-0 blowout over Purdue, in which he pulled in the first two catches of his career for a total of 15 yards. Appleton also made what would have been an acrobatic catch down the sidelines, but it was negated because his foot came down on the line.
Oozing with potential, Appleton almost didn't have the opportunity to show his skills at all on the college level. Originally, his senior year curriculum at East St. Louis High School allowed him to graduate but was not sufficient for him to get into college because the school didn't require the necessary classes.
But with the help of the Wisconsin coaching staff, he restructured his schedule to meet admission requirements and eventually graduated high school on the school's honor roll. Appleton credits the concern and dedication of the coaches as a key reason for choosing Wisconsin, along with the team's familial atmosphere that offered a positive change of scenery from the often unpleasant confines of East St. Louis.
""When you're living in the environment that I come from, you have to have a strong mind about everything,"" Appleton said. ""Then once you get into another environment that's a little bit better or a little bit more successful, then you can make the best of it.""
While two catches for 15 yards is far from earth-shattering, Appleton flashed impressive speed and agility Saturday, and at 6'3"", 202 pounds, he offers the smallish Wisconsin wide receiving corps an increase in size and strength.
Regardless, getting on the stat sheet alone is a nice accomplishment for the young wide receiver who coaches and players alike see as a big part of a bright future for the Wisconsin offense.
""Anytime a true freshman can come in and play right away, whether it's at a starting role or a backup, you've got to have a lot of talent to be able to do that,"" sophomore wide receiver Nick Toon said. ""[Appleton's] a natural receiver, he's got a lot of great tools and I think he's going to develop into a pretty good player.""
Wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander agreed with Toon, saying Appleton can help the team now and in the future.
""He's a competitor, that's for sure. I think when you see one of his two catches [Saturday], the guy was all over him, and he just did a better job of competing to get the ball,"" Alexander said.
Head coach Bret Bielema compared Appleton's development to that of star running back John Clay, saying that the team goes through periods in developmental scrimmages in which they constantly throw the ball at him to see how he handles it. So far, Appleton has responded, and Bielema likes what he sees.
""I think he's going to be very special,"" Bielema said.