Kenzel Doe badgers football practice

Wisconsin's Kenzel Doe (81) runs during the spring football season's first practice at the McClain Center in Madison in March 2011.

M.P. KING – State Journal

Kenzel Doe always knew where he wanted to wind up. It was just a question of finding out a way to get there.

The freshman wide receiver didn't have a direct path out of high school to the University of Wisconsin football team, but he wouldn't let it deter him.

Listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Doe didn't have a single Division I offer in 2009, coming out of a fabulously successful high school program in Reidsville, N.C., that has an enrollment of 944 students.

"I would say size and my high school," Doe said of his lack of offers. "We get overlooked. We win state championship after state championship ... and we get overlooked every year."

But his father encouraged him, saying if he played like a Division I player, somebody would eventually take notice.

"I'm always working to get better, trying to beat the next man out," Doe said. "My daddy says, 'You play D-I, you go D-I.' That's what I've been trying to do all through high school."

Doe played on teams that won 48 straight games and three consecutive 2-AA state titles. He has not lost a game since he was 13, going 103-0 in that span.

He finished his senior season with 54 receptions for 980 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also rushed for 224 yards and five TDs and threw for 124 yards (6 of 10) and one score. As a defensive back, he had 71 tackles and five interceptions as a senior and was named the defensive player of the game in the state championship finals.

A year ago at this time, Doe's stepfather read a story about Otis Yelverton, who had a history of placing players in Division I programs and was building a program at Oak Ridge Military Academy, located in Oak Ridge, N.C.

"We didn't know him personally, nothing," Doe said. "Saw him in a newspaper and saw he helped kids get in college. My stepdad called him. He said, 'I'm going to try and get you in schools. We're going to go to camps in the summer.'

"I went to camps and got better each camp. Don't settle for what you did the last camp. Get better ... and that's what I'm trying to do (at UW)."

Yelverton sent a highlight tape to former UW running backs coach John Settle, who starred at Rockingham County in Reidsville, located about 25 miles north of Greensboro. The UW coaches liked Doe after evaluating him at their camp last summer but almost lost him when he gave an oral commitment to Oregon State.

But Doe took an official visit to UW last Sept. 17 that changed his mind.

"I love it here," he said. "I really don't even think about going home. Wisconsin is the place to be. The coaches are friendly, everybody in the community is friendly, everybody is going to try and take care of you the best way they can."

'Keep an eye out for him'

The competition at the military school was lacking. Yelverton was able to attract players from around the country, many of them having finished high school, so the public schools in the area didn't want to play them.

That led to blowout victories over community-based teams, which consisted of teenagers who didn't meet academic or athletic requirements to play for their own high school teams.

Doe had to wear a uniform and do plenty of marching but didn't mind the military setting since his father was a Marine.

"It was more discipline, that's what it was and my daddy preaches discipline," Doe said. "So, it was a piece of cake, really, because I knew what was going to be expected of me when I got there."

When Doe enrolled early at UW in January, he was raring to go, impressing teammates with his speed — he estimated he runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range — during winter conditioning drills. He will get a chance initially to replace the departed David Gilreath as the team's top returner.

"He's just a great little athlete, very similar to David Gilreath," senior receiver Nick Toon said. "I would assume his role will be very similar to David's. Keep an eye out for him, I think he's going to do some big things."

After watching him catch passes in the first two practices last week, which were not in pads, UW coach Bret Bielema also liked Doe's receiver skills.

"He's got great hands," Bielema said. "He goes up and snags the ball. He's not real (big), but he's real quick and he's got great ups."

Having battled to get to UW, Doe isn't about to back down due to his lack of height.

"I can do exactly what they do, they're just tall," he said of the bigger receivers. "If you go out there and make plays, they're going to put you on the field."