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D.J. Gillins enjoying ups, downs of Wisconsin spring football

Enrolling early at UW has so far paid off for the Florida native, who's shown flashes of impressive talent this spring.

Quarterback D.J. Gillins hands off to fullback D.J. Spurling at Tuesday's practice.
Quarterback D.J. Gillins hands off to fullback D.J. Spurling at Tuesday's practice.
Grey Satterfield

MADISON -- Arguably the biggest signee on National Signing Day for Wisconsin was D.J. Gillins, a 6'3, 185-pound dual-threat quarterback from Jacksonville, Fla. Gillins is Gary Andersen and Andy Ludwig's first hand-picked quarterback to run their offense, and it was a big deal when Gillins decided to graduate from Jean Ribault High School in December and enroll at Wisconsin early.

Throughout spring, Gillins has shown great speed and a very respectable arm. He acknowledged that practice has been full of ups and downs for him, but he is happy to be in Madison for the learning experience.

"There was a lot thrown at me and I had to get used to it," Gillins said. "Coach Ludwig always helps me go through [the playbook]. I have players ahead of me like Joel Stave and Tanner [McEvoy] that always help. They are probably some of the nicest guys I have ever met."

Gillins recognized the fact that with all of the new offense being thrown at him, it can be tough to stay sharp. He alluded to the fact that the new playbook is difficult, but being a student at a new university is a challenge in itself, too.

"You've got class, then you've got practice, you've got to study and then you go to sleep," Gillins said. "It's a lot different than high school."

The new quarterback said his decision to enroll early was largely due to the fact that he could adjust before his first football season. The lighter workload during the spring was also a contributing factor to his decision. As he goes further into spring and then summer, Gillins is looking to improve his footwork, amongst other facets of his game.

"Footwork always needs improvement, and throwing to different receivers and getting timing down," Gillins said when asked about his areas of weakness. "It's been frustrating. I was really looking forward to throwing to Rob Wheelwright; he is probably one of the best receivers out there."

The Florida product believes that enrolling early will move his progression along much further than if he came in the summer. That decision may not be a bad one with highly touted quarterback Austin Kafentzis from Sandy, Utah, heading to Madison in 2015. Kafentzis gave his verbal commitment to the Badgers last June.

Gillins sees himself as a throwing quarterback first before a running quarterback, but he has flashed his speed on the practice field. Getting outside the pocke twill help him to adjust to Madison gamedays later in season, he said.

"When we practiced outside [March 31], that was probably the coldest I have ever been [playing football]. It's kind of like Florida, except Florida has rain. Florida is like hot, then rain, then hot again."

Gillins said he loves the fact that he is not the only early enrollee in camp right now. Aside from Gillins, the Badgers have six other true freshmen participating in spring ball with offensive linemen Michael Deiter and Jaden Gault and safety Austin Hudson atop the list.

"Having a guy from Ohio and Tampa [has been helpful]," Gillins said. "Hudson more because he is from Florida. It helps because you can't really get homesick with good friends."

Because of how the quarterback battle has shaken out this spring, Gillins might not see the field in 2014. Joel Stave is the returning starter -- though he will miss the remainder of spring with lingering shoulder issues -- and redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy has enjoyed a solid spring. Andersen has also said that if Gillins isn't closing to competing at quarterback, he'd likely redshirt before playing another position.

"If I redshirt, I'll be satisfied," Gillins said. "It doesn't really matter. I wouldn't want the coaches to throw me out there if I don't know what I'm doing. Whatever coach Andersen and coach Ludwig have for me is fine with me."