A college student’s freshman year is usually filled with an adjustment to life on your own, gaining a few pounds, balancing social and academic pressures and it’s fair share of highs and lows. Now a redshirt freshman Reggie Pearson is coming off of a true freshman campaign that was eerily similar. Bucky’s 5th Quarter had the chance to speak with Reggie after practice Thursday to find out more about his growth last season, and his rise to the top of the depth chart.
Hailing from River Rouge High School in Michigan, a southwest suburb of Detroit, Pearson committed to Wisconsin at the tail end of summer 2016 as a decorated three-star recruit. A year and a half later he would enter Wisconsin as a mid-year enrollee in January of 2018.
That jumpstart on the playbook, academics, and the grind of college life for an athlete in the spring would help him be prepared to potentially help as soon as the fall of his freshman year rolled around. But like any other freshman it did not go exactly as planned, and he experienced highlights and frustrations that have better prepared him for where he is today, a projected starter on the first team defense at strong safety.
21 days/tweets til opener. Red frosh safety Reggie Pearson, who's enjoying a strong training camp, has something in common with position coach/DC Jim Leonhard. Latter had 21 career picks at UW (tying him with Jamar Fletcher) Pearson had '21' career picks as prep (River Rouge HS)— Mike Lucas (@LucasAtLarge) August 9, 2019
After a good fall camp last season defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said Pearson “was going to have a role” due to his skill set and physicality. After an injury before the first game Pearson instead was forced to sit out of practice and game action for around a month. After rehabbing and getting back to full health, Wisconsin was hampered by other injuries in the secondary prior to the Michigan game in Ann Arbor. Pearson was called upon to not only debut in his home state, but also start at strong safety for the Badgers.
He ended up showing why the staff was so high on him, coming up with five tackles, including one tackle for a loss, and a forced fumble. Pearson would then combat more injuries during his freshman year, leading to him playing in only four games, including the bowl game against Miami on his way to maintaining his redshirt.
From Monday, redshirt freshman @reggiepearson21 (#2) appeared to be at one of the starting safety spots for the #badgers. He probably would have burned his redshirt if it wasn’t for injury. The hard hitting safety started against Michigan last season and forced a fumble. pic.twitter.com/MOUsUnDRwl— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) August 7, 2019
After a strong spring Pearson has received the vast majority of first team reps along with Scott Nelson at the safety position, and he feels as though last season better prepared him for what is to come. Pearson said that last season “was needed, I was hungry, still am hungry, but I wasn’t mature enough to go out there and control the complete defense.”
Pearson claims that the injuries he dealt with were a blessing in disguise last season because it allowed him to really dive into the playbook to better grasp the scheme and his role. On what he gained from the game experience he had Pearson said “knowing the speed of the game, knowing certain ways to win, it’s way different from high school. In high school I thought it was extremely easy, I’m sure everyone [here] went through the same thing. I was bigger than most guys in high school, so coming out here, just knowing the speed, different ways and techniques to win helped me.”
Pearson went on to say one player who has jumped out in his leadership this off-season and in fall camp has been Zack Baun. “Me and that guy are extremely close. He definitely helped me maturity wise and in believing in myself and what I have.” Pearson worked to become more mature last season under Baun’s tutelage, and said that he is “not complacent at all” as he continues to push forward in his development as a safety.
Pearson has tried to “minimize minor mistakes” while also trying to work on “building on my cover skills and learn how to be more of, if possible, able to play corner” and “be more confident in the calls to be ready for the season.”
First team defense was largely Faion Hicks and Deron Harrell at corner. Reggie Pearson and Scott Nelson took most of the reps at safety.— Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q) August 8, 2019
Pearson believes that he can help bring “grit” to the secondary this year, noting that he is “not afraid to come down at all, any running back, I’m not afraid of hitting anybody.” He continued by saying that he is “a versatile tackler who can cover too. At the end of the day I am ready to play, ready to help these guys any ways possible.” He believes that his skill set compliments Nelson in the secondary, and that they should pair well with one another.
Now a year older and a year wiser, Reggie Pearson appears ready for the bright lights and a larger role on the defense this season. After an up and down freshman year that tested him mentally and physically, he has gained seven pounds of primarily muscle, and a confidence in what he can bring to a hopefully improved Wisconsin defense in 2019.