MADISON - A year ago at this time Darius Hillary was in the midst of his final season as a prep football player. As part of his duties as a teammate, he would spend Tuesdays and Saturday's watching film of his squad's upcoming opponent.
Fast forward a year.
Hillary, now knee deep in his freshman season as a college football player, is watching a bit more film than he did during his prep days.
"That's the number one thing that you want to do," Hillary said. "Watch film and study your opponent. You watch their mistakes and your mistakes and what they do. That's what I use to get better."
Apparently it's working because earlier this week the UW coaching staff alerted Hillary of the possibility of him playing against NIU. Because Devin Smith was injured and lost for the remainder of the season and because Marcus Cromartie moved to replace him, there is an opening at the nickel and dime cornerback positions.
Hillary seems to be one of those players on the brink of earning playing time.
"The coaches told me this week that there is a possibility I could get in," Hillary said. "I kind of figured I would be playing when I was running with the twos and getting everything. They kept bringing me along so I knew it was for a reason.
"That's kind of how I handled it."
But what, as a freshman, can possibly indicate that Hillary is ready to see action. It is one of the toughest positions to learn and one of the more unforgiving positions to master.
"Just knowing the balls and trusting the safeties," Hillary said. "It's about getting better every day at practice. After practice it's about coming in and watching film. In practice, you can say that I might try to play things a little too fast. The older guys just tell me that I've got to slow things down a little bit.
"It's one of those things that you don't get until you actually get out there."
Peniel Jean is kind of in the same situation. Though he's one year further along in the Badger program, Jean is still trying to figure out what it's like to be a normal down and distance contributor.
He's played on all four units of special teams - - a responsibility that has eased the transition into potential playing time - - and he's performed quite well. When Smith was lost for the season Jean knew he was going to get an opportunity.
He also knew that didn't mean he needed to change his approach.
"Even before he got hurt I was just trying to work every day so I could get better and also just to compete," Jean said. "I wanted to let him know that I was right behind him trying to play as well. I'm still doing the same thing I do every day. How I approach practice is just getting better every day with every rep."
Jean, because he hasn't been a stalwart in the defensive secondary, is a relative unknown. He understands that he's about to enter an uncertain position because he hasn't proven himself on the field, but that's also not going to deter him.
"A lot of people probably don't know who I am," he said. "But playing and just trying to get better will allow me to step on the field and show the fans and the coaches that I can play."
That might start sooner rather than later.