Stephan Bracey opted for patience as he rehabbed from a partially torn quad tendon.
But the University of Wisconsin kick returner had no time for such things when he finally made his return to the field Saturday against Nebraska.
The redshirt sophomore fielded the opening kickoff off the bounce at the 9-yard line, cut inside, shed a couple tackles then found an opening down the right sideline before outracing the Cornhuskers the final 75 yards to give the Badgers an immediate 7-0 lead. UW (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten) went on to win 35-28 to extend its winning streak to seven games.
“I broke the first tackle and I saw just the daylight on the sideline, and it was kind of just get on that gas, accelerated and just flooring it,” said Bracey about the 91-yard return, which was longer than any he had in high school. “And eventually I got to the end zone.
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“What happened today, honest, just was the man upstairs, and I’m just grateful to be here, be a part of this team and contribute to our win tonight.”
It’s the first kick return for the Badgers since the 2020 Rose Bowl against Oregon, when Aron Cruickshank took a first-quarter kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown that tied the game 7-7. The Ducks went on to win 28-27.
Bracey provides an immediate jolt to a return game searching for playmaking.
UW has struggled on kick returns all season. Five players have had at least one return, with Devin Chandler and Chimere Dike both recording a team-high four. Chandler led the Badgers with 21.25 yards per return and had the longest return of the season entering Saturday — 33 yards.
Bracey did not break off another long return, finishing with three returns for 138 yards.
“For him, on his first touch back, to take it to the house like that was pretty cool for all of us to see,” freshman running back Braelon Allen said.
Bracey called his rehab from surgery a grind. He rehabbed in the morning, ran and worked on change-of-direction while his teammates practiced and received extra treatment on his leg after that over the past few weeks.
Bracey wanted to be back sooner but was more concerned about coming back fully healthy so he could avoid another injury.
He was cleared to return Sunday, he said, and figured he would be slotted in as the starting return man after returning six kickoffs the previous season. He got the news from the coaching staff Thursday that he’d be out there.
Badgers fans on Twitter have mixed feelings after Wisconsin barely passes Nebraska's test
Passing the practice exam
Nebraska was a great test for the Badgers should they play Ohio State in two weeks. Martinez was effective throughout the game on crossing patterns, and Wisconsin didn’t have an answer. Braelon Allen is going to be among the great running backs in Badgers history. Huge win!— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) November 20, 2021
Like a fine wine ...
I think everyone except Braelon Allen aged about 50 years after that one! Not sure if you heard, but he's only 17. Still. 😜😂😂🏈— Rob Hernandez (@RobHernandezGLF) November 20, 2021
Just sneaking through
It was a TIGHT ENDing. But the good guys got just what they needed to win.— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) November 21, 2021
A fitting farewell
Obvious take is that Huskers are much better than their record. Good test for the offense on a day when the defense was subpar. Happy for the seniors to get a win on Senior Day. Now on to the Ground Squirrels and the Battle for the Axe!— Russ Evansen (@waunaruss) November 21, 2021
Battle to the buzzer
Hats off to NB. They played a great game. Admire their no quit. Badger O was good and carried the D for the first time this season. Fantastic home ender— BadgerFan (@divot516) November 20, 2021
Keeping it rolling
7 in a row!— Sean Stephenson (@sgstephenson) November 20, 2021
Still room to improve
Did just enough to beat a scrappy Husker team. Defense will make adjustments and offensive line getting better each week.— Jon Ahlgrim (@JonAhlgrim) November 21, 2021
Offense returns the favor
This was a very good win. Nebraska was dangerous and way better than their record. Offense did what it had to. Not Leonhard’s best day, though. If we’re being honest Frost prepared his offense better than Leonhard coached his D.— ryebadger (@ryebadger1) November 21, 2021
Nebraska will beat Iowa...best 3-8 team I've ever seen— OnWisconsin (@jgraf36) November 20, 2021
NB should have called time out without losing valuable minutes. NB could have scored, gone for two so a PI and two receptions from a Uw loss. The PI the refs did call was uncatchable, so poor grade for refs. Badgers should beat Gophers for West title.— Steve Kazan (@skazan) November 21, 2021
Up for the challenge
I hope to find out— Dennis Whitehead (@Badgerden1) November 20, 2021
A win's a win
Not a clean game on either side of the ball…but ugly wins are still wins.— Todd (@pilprin) November 21, 2021
Enjoy the show!
1) B. Allen will be on Heisman watch next year.— Cat Lady Darcy (@CatLadyDarcy) November 21, 2021
2) Hopes that Chryst cld attract WRs are dead.
3) I live near Indy. Not looking forward to watching my Badgers get drubbed by Ohio St. Again.
Flaws on full display
Badgers were exposed again in the secondary. If opposing QBs get any time we can’t cover WR. Pass blocking and WR play needs big improvements for the Big Ten Championship game should we beat Minnesota next week— Bill Schroeder (@BigBill021) November 21, 2021
All too real
Nebraska fans must see Wisconsin running backs in their nightmares.— Andrew Zimdars (@andrew_zimdars) November 20, 2021
Picking up the slack
Stay with it
Need to focus on the secondary not breaking coverage when the QB starts to scramble.— Tyler Chesmore (@TylerChesmore) November 20, 2021
Narrowly dodging disaster
Too close! Nebraska was playing with house money and it needed every bit of effort to win this. On to Minnesota.— Kurt Sagendorph (@ksagendo) November 21, 2021
Finding another gear
Huskers played really well. These games happen. And the team dug down and won. Also our running back is 17 years old. 😌— Hannah Mott (@TheEverydayMath) November 20, 2021
It takes a team
The defense wasn't great. Allen is a stud.— Brian Hipp (@Brianhipp) November 20, 2021
Living on the edge
Scary relying on the offense when the D struggles.— Ryan (@RyanBrown812) November 20, 2021
Back to the drawing board
For once, the Offense bailed out the Defense. Leonard and team have work to do this week…— Mike T (@badger2k) November 21, 2021
Bubble burst on the great defense. Ohio St. will kill them if they get that far.— Ken Rasmussen (@KenRasmussen2) November 21, 2021
Priority No. 1
They won, that's all that matters.— Dickie P (@dpedder10) November 21, 2021
Email Jake Adams at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @jakeadams520