Fenelus’ big plays atone for small stature

first_imgCornerback Antonio Fenelus was looked upon heavily to lead the secondary once Niles Brinkley graduated last spring. In 2011, he is off to a strong start.[/media-credit]Standing at a lofty 5-foot-9 and sporting a wide smile, Antonio Fenelus isn’t exactly the most intimidating cornerback at first glance.Fenelus’ friendly off-field demeanor and his below-average height don’t necessarily reflect his play on the field. The senior cornerback does as much as he can to get his hands on the ball against receivers who are, on average, four to nine inches taller than him.“My mindset, every single time when I’m competing against a receiver, is ‘I’m going to try to make sure nobody catches the ball on me,’” Fenelus said. “Whenever I see the ball my way, I’m trying to get an interception, trying to get a pass break-up. I don’t like to get caught on, so I just try to make sure I compete every play.”From about the middle of last season through the first two games of the 2011 season, Fenelus has been relentless.The Boca Raton, Fla. native has been badgering receivers up and down the field, breaking up passes and deflecting them away. While he currently has the most pass break-ups on the team with three, he hasn’t been able to claim an interception yet.“Whenever I play, I try to strive to compete in every play, making sure I’m doing my assignment, and the rest of it will take care of itself,” Fenelus said. “If I’m doing my assignment, I’ll be in good position to make those plays on the ball, so that’s what I really strive for.”He may currently be UW’s top cornerback, but that wasn’t always the case.When the two-star recruit initially came to Wisconsin, he had to fight for his spot. He never attended any special camps like many higher recruits, so instead, Fenelus just played high school football and quickly learned how different the game is at the collegiate level. During his sophomore year, he lost his spot on the depth chart and was forced to revamp his game in order to earn his starting role.“I had to watch film … a lot,” Fenelus said. “I used to stand upstairs in the coach’s office just trying to learn how my opponents are, how I messed up my sophomore year, what technique I was using and why I was wrong. I just strived on making sure I was good on my technique and made sure I knew my opponents inside and out.”Last season, defensive coordinator Chris Ash joined Wisconsin’s staff from Iowa State, bringing with him a new mentality for the secondary. Coupled with a new knowledge of the game and a renewed aggressive mentality, Fenelus began to develop into a consistent force in the secondary, finishing the season with a team-high four interceptions and 11 passes deflected, as well as 56 tackles.“From when I got on campus a year ago, he’s really improved,” Ash said. “He’s bought into the things that I was trying to coach, and he just competes every single day. He’s a great kid. He studies the game of football all the time. It doesn’t matter what day it is, who we’re going against, what drill – he always competes, and it makes him better.”Wisconsin has said it before – pitting its offense against its defense in practice is the best daily medicine for the team. For Fenelus, the statement couldn’t be truer. Facing the 6-foot-3, 220-pound target that is Nick Toon every single day in practice, Fenelus not only gets a great workout, but he’s also consistently challenged at the highest degree.“I kid you guys not; he works his butt off in practice going against Toon, one of our better receivers every single day in practice,” senior safety Aaron Henry said. “The work is definitely getting put in for him, and it’s just going out there on game day – facing a guy like Toon in practice all week – it’s just easier for him, once he gets on the field during game day.”Through two games this season, Fenelus has made a total of nine tackles, second only to Marcus Cromartie among the cornerbacks. Yet, he was also penalized for a questionable pass interference against Nevada-Las Vegas.“It was pretty frustrating,” Fenelus said. “I didn’t dwell on it too much; I just put it in the past because as a [defensive back] you have to have a short-term memory. … I asked the ref what I did wrong; he said I kind of cut the receiver off too much. I’m just learning from it because you know the ref is going to win every time.”Despite the one mistake, Fenelus is currently on track to have another dominant season.“He’s played tremendous, but he’s been playing like that, I want to say since the latter part of last year,” Henry said. “He’s really been stepping up and making some plays for us. I think eventually people are going to stop going to him. Hopefully he can get his hands on a couple of picks. The guy is – what, 5-foot-9, maybe -8, something like that? And people continue to pick on him, but he loves a challenge; he loves it.”last_img

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