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Monday, March 11, 2013
Spring breakout player: Wisconsin

By Adam Rittenberg

Spring practice is kicking off around the Big Ten, and we're taking a look at one potential breakout player for each team. We’re spotlighting players who could take a major step during spring ball, so those who have started multiple seasons or earned All-Big Ten recognition in 2012 aren't eligible.

New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen lifted the curtain on spring practice Saturday, and the team is looking for help in the secondary. The Badgers likely will turn to ...

Darius Hillary, CB, sophomore, 5-foot-11, 190 pounds

Andersen inherits a roster that has good depth at several positions, including running back, defensive line and quarterback. But the Badgers need bodies in the secondary after losing three of four starters to graduation, including both top cornerbacks. Although the new staff addressed the group by adding Donnell Vercher from the junior-college ranks in its first recruiting class, Wisconsin needs 2012 backups to transition well into featured roles. Hillary looks ready for the part after appearing in all 14 games last season, mostly as a nickelback.

He recorded 23 tackles (16) solo and two pass breakups, including eight stops in a nonleague win against UTEP. Hillary endured some tough moments, like allowing the game-winning touchdown pass against Michigan State in an overtime home loss, but for the most part held his own. The varied experiences as a younger player should help Hillary as he moves into a likely starting role. Not surprisingly, Hillary and Peniel Jean, who missed a chunk of last season with injury, opened the spring as Wisconsin's starting cornerbacks. He's a smart player whose father, Ira, played wide receiver in the NFL. Hillary can play both cornerback and safety but fills a bigger need at the corner spot. It will be interesting to see how he develops this spring under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and secondary coaches Bill Busch and Ben Strickland, a holdover from the previous staff.