Football: Dickerson brings rising stock into Wisconsin’s tight end factory


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Garrett Dickerson snags a pass. Coming off a career day against Bowling Green, the senior superback has become a key part of Northwestern’s passing attack.

Ben Pope, Reporter


A laundry list of NFL tight ends have called Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium home in recent decades.

Troy Fumagalli, the Badgers’ current tight end and receptions leader for two years running, is projected as a near-certain pick in next spring’s draft — par for the course in Madison.

But on Saturday, Fumagalli might not even be the best de facto tight end on the field, if Northwestern senior superback Garrett Dickerson has anything to say about the matter.

Dickerson is coming off an explosive outing in the Wildcats’ rout of Bowling Green on Sept. 16, when he shattered previous career highs with nine receptions for 150 yards against the Falcons. The performance earned him a grade of 99.9 in Pro Football Focus’ College Football rating system, the best individual score at any position in all of college football that weekend.

The senior was quick to downplay his career day when asked Tuesday, admitting he “did play well” but adding there was “lots of room for improvement.”

He wasn’t able to hide his surprise on the night of Sept. 16, however.

Dickerson went wide-eyed when he heard his stat line recited in the postgame news conference. Minutes later, when senior defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster whispered a remark about it, Dickerson whispered back “I didn’t know.”

However, if Dickerson replicates those numbers this Saturday on the field that the likes of Owen Daniels and Lance Kendricks have torn up for the Badgers in years past –– he’ll most certainly know.

Superbacks coach Bob Heffner said Dickerson came to Evanston as the most comfortable blocker, but least natural receiver, of the three superbacks Heffner has coached. Both of Dickerson’s predecessors, Drake Dunsmore and Dan Vitale, were ultimately drafted into the NFL.

“Garrett, of the three, he’s the first one that can put his hand down and feel the most comfortable, because that’s what he did in high school,” Heffner said. “His first two years here, he was blocking more because Dan Vitale was getting a lot of passes. Last year, as the season went along, he caught more and more balls because he was the main feature guy.”

Dickerson, meanwhile, credited Vitale for helping him grow into a more viable receiver.

“Dan was a great mentor for me the first two years I was here,” Dickerson said. “He taught me a lot of different things, especially about route-running.”

Vitale graduated after the 2015 season, transforming Dickerson by default from mentee to mentor — a job Fitzgerald said Dickerson has performed impressively, describing him as “like a coach on the field.”

Dickerson has continued to work on his receiving skills, including running routes with junior quarterback Clayton Thorson throughout this past offseason to better the duo’s rapport. By last month’s training camp, Dickerson said he was hoping to slot into multiple positions this autumn.

“I know I have to be an efficient blocker, but I’m just trying to expand my role so we can … be able to do different things, (such as) going from a trey set to an open set, with me still in the game,” he said.

Those many efforts paid off against Bowling Green with Dickerson’s nationally noticed breakout. They’ll be put to the test again at tight end ground zero — otherwise known as Madison — this Saturday.

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