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October 20, 2011MADISON - When asked what drives him following a recent practice, senior cornerback Antonio Fenelus didn't think twice about his answer.
He's confident in his abilities, he's more than coachable and he's hell-bent on becoming the best player he can possibly be. There's nothing more to it.
"Just being consistent and getting better every play and every day," Fenelus said. "Every game I'm just developing to be that leader for my team."
It's rubbing off.
Maybe it's Fenelus' team-high two interceptions, his three passes breakups or the general ineptness of opposing wide receivers against him. No matter what it is Fenelus has truly become a standout on a surprisingly better than expected defense through six games.
"I definitely think he's a shutdown corner," UW senior free safety Aaron Henry said. "If he keeps playing the way he's playing he's going to be an All-American corner."
Head coach Bret Bielema publicly praised the way Fenelus has been playing through the first half of the year by saying he's never seen him play better. Fenelus, though he probably knows he's had success at some level this season, isn't about to let his confidence marinate in compliments.
There's not much good that can come from that.
"I don't really focus on that too much," Fenelus said. "I take the stuff that coach Chris Ash tells me every week and I just try to get it done. He told me to make sure I do a good job of staying on top of the receivers and keep them down.
"I did a good job of that. I'm going to do the same thing this week."
If everything goes according to planned for the fifth-year senior, he'll have a chance to break out on a national scale by shutting down the Big Ten's second leading receiver in B.J. Cunningham this weekend.
The Spartans leading receiver has already logged 621 yards receiving and a couple of scores. He represents one of two Big Ten wide outs averaging more than 100 yards receiving per game.
Fenelus will most definitely line up against Cunningham on multiple occasions Saturday night in East Lansing, if not every time.
"I get excited every week no matter who I go up against," Fenelus said. "I'm just going to see it as another challenge. He's a great receiver along with No. 82 (Keshawn Martin) and No. 7 (Keith Nichol).
"I'm just going to have to stay after it and make sure that I'm in a good position on those routes."
Judging by Henry's confidence in Fenelus, the idea of maintaining good position seems to be the least of his concerns.
"I don't even have to really worry about him," said Henry, who also made it clear that he doesn't necessarily worry about any player in the secondary. "I know he's going to go out there and take care of his business like it's a challenge for him day in and day out."
Though Fenelus was quick to point out his motivations - - staying consistent, getting better and becoming a leader - - Henry hinted at several other distinctions that could be used as a driving force.
Whatever is fueling the 5-foot-9 senior, it's working.
"He's always been told he's not tall enough, fast enough or strong enough," Henry said. "He's going against these bigger receivers and he's going up, competing and getting the ball over them.
"They've been throwing to his side but it's been getting intercepted."
And that's something Fenelus would like to carry forward into UW's biggest game of the season. He remembers what it was like in the Badger locker room a season ago following a loss to Michigan State.
Knowing it's his final season, and knowing what's at state, Fenelus doesn't want to come anywhere close to reaching the depths of that low.
He's too motivated to do that.
"We don't want to feel like we did last year when it was our first loss and the only loss of the regular season," he said. "We definitely remember that feeling. We're definitely going to make sure we work hard and just come out successful."