Tight end Lance Kendricks a go-to weapon for Wisconsin

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March 31, 2014 | 6:48 am

IOWA CITY — Lance Kendricks began his Wisconsin career as a tall, lanky wide receiver. Four years later, Kendricks built himself into one of the nation’s premier tight ends.

“I grew into it (the position), but also I did really work hard in the off-season to be the player I am now,” said Kendricks, a senior. “I never had a problem with putting on weight.”

There’s nothing small about his play now. At 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds, Kendricks is the perfect frame for the position. He’s a strong player at the point of attack and expects to draw one-on-one blocking assignments against Iowa defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard.

“He’s more physical than most of the tight ends we’ve played so far,” Iowa linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. “The same with the rest of the offense. He’s an athletic guy. We’re going to have to be ready for him.”

But Kendricks also has some of the best hands in the Big Ten. Twice he earned John Mackey Tight End of the Week honors this season. He ranks second nationally in receiving yards by a tight end (391).

“He’s a very good blocker, first and foremost,” Iowa safety Tyler Sash said. “He’s a big guy. He reminds you of a wide receiver. Obviously he plays tight end, but he has the skill set of a wide receiver. He can block you as well. Very physical.”

Kendricks hails from Milwaukee and was recruited by Iowa among other schools. He even took an unofficial visit to Kinnick Stadium as a junior in high school, but ultimately chose Wisconsin because of its proximity to home.

The Badgers are glad he did. Kendricks leads the team in receptions with 25 despite missing most of last week’s game against Ohio State with muscle cramps. He’s caught three touchdowns so far and produced back-to-back 100-yard receiving days against Arizona State and Austin Peay this season.

In his career, Kendricks has caught 66 passes for 888 yards and six touchdowns. His production has evoked memories of other recent Wisconsin tight ends like Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham, both of whom are playing in the NFL. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Kendricks compares favorably with his predecessors.

“Beckum was more of a receiver, and they called him a tight end,” Ferentz said. “But Garrett Graham, the tight end, he blocks, he’s excellent in the passing game. (Kendricks is) another top-notch football player, and Graham was tough to defend. Those guys are right there with him.”

Kendricks now is more concerned with team goals than past comparisons. No. 10 Wisconsin (5-1) upset top-ranked Ohio State 31-18 last week, but Kendricks said there’s no hangover effect for the Badgers.

“I think everybody’s mindset on Monday was to come in and go to right to work,” Kendricks said. “Just playing Iowa for us is motivation. For us it’s a big-time rivalry game and for us that’s motivation.”

Kendricks said he’s motivated to compete against Iowa’s defensive line and move the Badgers closer toward its ultimate goal of a Big Ten championship. But that requires a victory in Iowa City.

“It would do a lot for our program, especially just for the amount of work we put in,” Kendricks said of beating Ohio State and Iowa back-to-back. “We really work hard. It would be nice to get two big wins, especially on the road against a ranked opponent.”

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