MADISON - Manasseh Garner was comfortable playing both sides of the ball. So naturally when the coaches approached the young prospect about switching exclusively to defense, the Pittsburgh native had no qualms.
Now, having played that side of the ball for the final month-plus of the season, Garner is back with the wide receivers. During bowl prep, Garner is back on the offensive side of the ball. And that's a place the young player will likely stay.
At the conclusion of a recent practice, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with Garner. The following is a question and answer with him.
You dabbled in there with some playing time this year, but how has your first full regular season gone this year?
Garner: The first full regular season was a big experience. Just the opportunity to come out here, grind every day in practice and on the field, play with these wonderful players I have beside me and coming up throughout the whole season and learning every day has just been a blessing.
Midway through the season you were working both offense and defense and both coaches were pulling at you, what was that like? What's going through your mind when you're going through that?
Garner: It really wasn't too much pressuring. I played both offense and defense in high school so the hunger on both sides of the ball has always been there. It came down to a point where I just had to turn off one of the sides and pay more attention to what the other had. At the beginning of the season it was offense, midway through the season it became more of both and second half of the season it was more defense. I had to turn off the switch for offense and just pay attention to the defensive side. It really wasn't very hard, but at the same time it required a lot of focus and paying attention. My coaches helped me out and instructed me and helped me out through the whole process.
I was out here the other day for practice and I saw you working at wide receiver. Do they have you doing that just during developmental or is that something to do with the bowl game?
Garner: As of right now I'm working with the receivers. I really don't talk to the coaches concerning what they plan on doing. As of right now I'm back with the receivers and I'm stepping in and just learning. Every day is a learning process from the beginning of the season until now. I'm back on the offense and getting back into the steps and everything.
Obviously you guys have got a huge game and you want to close out with a Rose Bowl win as well, but just looking at the future of this team particularly at the wide receiver spot with guys like Isaiah Williams, Chase Hammond and Marquis Mason. Are those guys looking pretty impressive to you?
Garner: Oh yeah, one thing I can say is coach DelVaughn Alexander, our receivers coach, he's been on us since the beginning of the season. He sees potential and they wouldn't have brought us here if they didn't see potential. In every way, they're going to pull that out of us and make sure that we're focused and we're on our game. Whether it's on or off the field, these coaches have been on us.
Marquis, Isaiah and Chase, the coach sees the talent as I do myself. They push it and they push us in every way. Whether we're out here after everybody putting in some extra work with just us, the receivers, that's just something we have to do to get better. Coach likes to see stuff like that.
You talked about the focus and Wisconsin is the least penalized team and that comes from somewhere. I feel like during fall camp, during the season or bowl prep it has something to do with the log rolls. Have you ever had to do any of those?
Garner: Actually I did. I've only had to do it one time, thank God. Early in the season I forgot my playbook, but it's just being focused. It's in everything. You've got to get your mind right, Lock in. That's the terminology the whole team embraces. Just lock in. When you get on this field it's time to work.
Coach Bret Bielema, he always refers to this game as a business, especially on the collegiate level. This is a business and he wants businessmen. We've got to conduct ourselves as businessmen. When we come on this field, we've got to come ready to work because in the end, you've got to embrace it.
You've got to take it as if your life is on the line. That's just something that me, and every last one of these players, have embraced. We've got a job to uphold and if we don't we're going to get fired from the job and somebody else is going to take your spot.
It's one thing when you preach discipline throughout practice and fall camp throughout the summer, but to see it working on the field has just got to be an added bonus or added motivation.
Garner: Concerning that aspect of it, that's just the players themselves. Some of the players have the will and they don't want to fall short of anything less than the best. That's just something the seniors have always upheld. Since my class has come in as freshmen, the seniors have been on us. They've been on us and pushing us as a unit and as a team. Every day is 1-0. That's one philosophy that this team embraces as well. Every practice is 1-0 and (it's about) defeating that day. Every defender is 1-0 and it's about defeating that defender. Every opportunity is starting and once you defeat it you're 1-0. But every opportunity is 0-0, so embrace it so you become 1-0.
Did you expect to win a Big Ten title your first year on campus?
Garner: Oh yes, most definitely.
Garner: It's actually kind of funny because when I first came here one of my friends back home gave me a Rose Bowl book bag. I never paid attention to it until I got here and everybody was like, 'Where did you get that Rose Bowl book bag?' I was always like, 'Oh, I got it from a friend back home.'
As the season progresses I talked to my dad and I was like 'Dad, you know what is funny? Everybody keeps asking where I got this book bag.' We're in the Rose Bowl now, so I took that as a divine appointment. God set something up right before my eyes and it's something I never paid attention to. But I was carrying around destiny in and of itself and I never paid attention to it.
I always expected to win and I always expect to win in every opportunity. It was just a blessing to actually see how everything just fell into place. I just thank God for that.
So is that your good luck charm? Is that in your bed at night?
Garner: I definitely keep it beside me. I consider it just a blessing from God and just God setting something up right before my eyes. My parents have always told me that greatness is going to follow you in everything. I embraced it, but just seeing it actually happen before my eyes was just a blessing.
Obviously going back to the positional thing and playing on both sides of the ball. Are you more comfortable with one side or the other? Obviously in high school you played both sides but would it be nice to settle in and play just one spot?
Garner: As a freshman this year my whole thing from the beginning through summer camp until now has just been learning. In terms of locking in at one position, that's definitely my goal. I really wanted to just focus in on what I had to do at that time to help my team, but as things go on now, I'm starting to focus in even more and just want to learn and pick up very fast.
Obviously you've been outside and it's nasty. That LA weather is going to be pretty nice.
Garner: Yes, I look forward to it. Actually a lot of people told me that the weather in Wisconsin was a major difference than it is in Pittsburgh. I was always like, 'No, we get a lot of snow in Pittsburgh.' It's nowhere near this in Pittsburgh. The weather does its fair share. That definitely changed my mind. When I saw snow coming down like rain I was like, 'Wow, this is a major difference.' I definitely look forward to going out to LA.
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