The 1984 Wisconsin Badgers had a plethora of receiving options that matched or surpassed anybody else in college football. There was the elegant Al Toon, the versatile Thad McFadden and the explosive Michael Jones. The reliable Joe Armentrout was also a pass-catching threat coming out of the backfield. Toon (whose son Nick is now a starting wideout for the Badgers) led the team in receiving.
Who was the second-leading receiver?
That distinction belonged to Bret Pearson, a rock-steady tight end from Menominee, Mich., who was generally overshadowed by his higher profile teammates. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Pearson, who wore No. 86, had the second most catches on the UW offense in both '83 and '84. Pearson also excelled on special teams.
Pearson's high school coach in Menominee was Ken Hofer, who also coached Jacob Pedersen, a redshirt freshman tight end on the 2010 Badgers. "When I committed (to the UW), people brought up Bret Pearson's name,'' said the 6-4, 238-pound Pedersen. "Someone even gave me his phone number. I always thought it would be interesting to get a hold of him and talk about his experiences.''
Pedersen is starting to establish his own identity with caches in each of the first two games this season. What he has done is taken advantage of the graduation loss of Garrett Graham and an injury to Brian Wozniak (a redshirt freshman from Loveland, Ohio). That has led to more reps at the Y (tight end) and H-Back positions in a rotation that features Lance Kendricks and Jake Byrne.
"It's a lot faster game and there's a lot bigger playbook,'' Pedersen said of his transition to this level of competition. "In high school, you basically had one play doing this, and another play doing that. Here one play can be called, and you can have three or four different reads. By getting more reps in practice, I'm starting to learn what Scott (Tolzien) is reading, and we're getting on the same page.''
Few people will mistake Pedersen for Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the 6-6, 235-pound rock star in Columbus. But in preparation for last season's game against the Buckeyes, Pedersen took a number of snaps on the scout team simulating Pryor for Wisconsin's No. 1 defense. "Because he's a bigger guy,'' Pedersen explained, "they wanted to give that look, so I tried to mimic him.''
In high school, Pedersen lined up just about everywhere. On offense, he was used as a split end, a tailback and a tight end. On defense, he lined up at defensive end, middle linebacker and safety. But the notion of Pedersen serving as Pryor's stunt double might have been greeted with a few snickers back home in Menominee.
"If I told them I ran Terrelle Pryor in practice, it would be, 'Yeah, right,' '' said Pedersen, who someday may be drawing comparisons to Bret Pearson; a high standard and worthy goal.