MADISON, Wis. - If you ask Antonio Fenelus about how he thinks he's playing this year, the senior cornerback will give a standard-issue answer. He defers to his teammates, says he still has a lot to work on, and that he tries to get better every day. But if you ask senior safety Aaron Henry, the team captain raves about his fellow defensive back.
"You can throw height out the window; you can throw size out the window," Henry said. "The kid's been going out there every week lining up against the best wide receiver. They've been throwing it to his side, but it's been getting intercepted."
The coaching staff is understandably high on Fenelus as well. During his Monday press conference, Bret Bielema said Fenelus is playing better than any other cornerback he's coached at Wisconsin. His position coach and defensive coordinator, Chris Ash, also had a lot of praise for his senior corner.
"I can tell you right now that he's playing as good as any corner I've been around," Ash said Sunday. "He's playing consistent, he's competing, and making plays, whether it be in the throwing game or the run game."
Fenelus, who already has two interceptions this season, doesn't like to focus on the nice things that are said about him, however.
"I don't really focus on that too much," Fenelus said after practice Wednesday. "I take the stuff that coach Ash tells me every week, and I just try to get it done. Last week he told me to make sure I do a good job, stay on top of the receivers and keep them down. I'm going to do that same thing this week."
It's gotten to the point where Henry feels so comfortable with Fenelus playing ahead of him, that he doesn't have to think twice about his fellow senior.
"I don't even have to really worry about him," Henry said. "Being a senior, I know he's going to go out there and take care of his business."
That "business" usually involves matching up with a team's top receivers, who are usually a good bit taller than Fenelus. Fenelus stands at a diminutive 5 feet 9 inches, which is a few inches shorter than what most coaches imagine in an "ideal cornerback." But coaches would be unwise to let Fenelus' size (or lack of it) trick them into thinking their receiver will automatically have a matchup advantage. In fact, Fenelus relishes the chances he gets to make a play on the ball.
"I love it whenever they throw on my side," Fenelus said. "I don't look at it as a bad thing. It's just a challenge for me, and a chance for me to go get the ball and make a play."
Henry knows too that just because Fenelus wouldn't come to some coaches' minds when they describe a "shutdown cornerback," that doesn't mean he can't put receivers on Fenelus Island.
"He's always been [told] ‘Oh you're not tall enough, oh you're not fast enough, oh you're not strong enough,'" Henry said. "He's going up against these bigger receivers, and going up and competing all over. I definitely think he is a shutdown corner. Playing the way he's playing, he's going to be an All-American corner."
News and Notes
Following his head coach's lead, Henry knows not to get involved in a verbal skirmish with Michigan State. Henry said the team heard the Spartans trash talking earlier in the week, but it gave them even more motivation during the week.
"At the end of the day, the game is still played on the field," Henry said. "The game is played in between the lines and not in the newspapers. Yeah we heard it, but if anything it gave us more motivation. It's kinda like adding kerosene to a fire."
"The game is played before the whistle. When the ball is snapped, that's when we play the game. All that extra-curricular stuff we can care less about it."
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