UW Health Sports Medicine 

Who are these guys?

Heading into the 2009 football season, Badger fans had some ideas of who the team leaders would be. On offense, many people figured that running back John Clay would fill the void left by P.J. Hill's departure to the NFL. Garrett Graham was ready to step in for the departing Travis Beckum. On the line, John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi would lead the way.

Defensively there were more questions, with five of the starting front seven from 2008 having moved on. Linebacker Jaevery McFadden had started a lot of games and the secondary returned a number of players with meaningful experience.

But it is safe to say the questions outnumbered the answers in August. Who would emerge from the quarterback derby? Would any true freshmen step in and contribute right away? Who would fill the holes on the defensive line and at linebacker? What about the offensive line?

Suffice it to say, UW fans were happy with the answers they got to those questions this season. Here is a look at some players who may have been under the radar at the start of fall camp but played big roles in the Badgers' success in 2009.

Tolzien_Scott_NIU_09.jpgJunior quarterback Scott Tolzien
On Sept. 4, Scott Tolzien's career statistics read: three games played, 5-of-8 passing for 107 yards, no touchdowns, one interception. To many observers, he was the third man in a two-QB preseason race to determine the starter. But around the second week of fall camp, it became increasingly clear that No. 16 was tightening his grip on the starting job.

All Tolzien did this season was etch his name into the UW record book while becoming just the fifth Badger QB to lead his team to 10 wins. He led the Big Ten in pass efficiency. He set a school record for completions. His 2,705 yards through the air were second-best in school history and his 64.3 completion percentage was third-best. Here's betting there's no quarterback controversy this offseason.

Thumbnail image for 090905FB-3582-50.jpgSenior defensive end O'Brien Schofield
How can a team captain end up on the "under the radar" list, especially when he tied for the team lead in sacks the year before? Well, maybe Badger fans knew Schofield was a good player, but he brought his game to a new level and announced to the country that he was a great player.

Schofield started all 13 games in 2008 and totaled 8.5 tackles for loss. Good numbers for sure, but nothing to get you in the national spotlight. That's reserved for players who finish second in the country in TFLs with 24.5 (second-best in school history). Or players that tied for sixth in the country with 12 sacks (tied for third in school history). Those kinds of numbers earn you first-team All-Big Ten honors and make you a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarick Award. Like Schofield.

Freshman offensive linemen Travis Frederick and Peter Konz
Two young offensive linemen who may have been afterthoughts at the end of spring practice ended up becoming major cogs in a line that helped the offense account for more than 416 yards per game.

People who follow high school football in the state of Wisconsin were familiar with Frederick. He led his high school, Big Foot, to the state title game as a senior. He enrolled at UW in January to get a head start on school and football. And that certainly paid dividends quickly.

When projected starters John Moffitt and Bill Nagy went down to injuries before the start of fall camp, Frederick, who had spent most of spring practice at guard, spent three weeks learning the center spot. That came in handy as he became the first true freshman offensive lineman in school history to start a season opener. He got the start next week as well, but injured his ankle early in the Fresno State game. That paved the way for another of our surprise performers, redshirt freshman Peter Konz.

Konz_Peter_Wofford_09_2.jpgKonz sprinted off the bench and into the lineup during the Fresno game. Following the Badgers' wild 34-31 double overtime win, I asked Konz what it was like out there. He got wide eyes and exclaimed, "It was awesome!" That's all I needed to know about Peter. He would go on to start nine straight games at center and be named first-team Freshman All-American by the Sporting News.

Frederick spent much of the remainder of the season on the bench, until the night before the Hawaii game when Konz was diagnosed with a lung issue that would force him to miss the final two games. Frederick stepped in, this time at guard, and helped the Badgers defeat Hawaii and Miami.

Freshmen linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland

Another pair of freshmen, this time on the defensive side of the ball, made huge impacts and picked each other up when injuries came into play, much like Frederick and Konz.

After missing much of spring practice and most of the first week of fall practice with an injury, Mike Taylor jumped onto the scene and earned his way into the starting lineup by making play after play when he got healthy. That playmaking continued when the season began as he was responsible for Wisconsin's first forced turnover of the season when he ripped the ball from an NIU running back.

Through the first six games, Taylor led the Badgers in tackles and ranked second on the team in TFLs. However, his season came to an end with a knee injury against Iowa. That's when Chris Borland stepped into the spotlight.

Borland_Chris_Iowa_09_2.jpgBorland had been making his presence felt on special teams, earning Big Ten special teams Player of the Week honors after blocking a punt and forcing a fumble vs. Wofford. He stepped right in against Iowa and led the Badgers with 10 tackles. In his first career start, vs. Purdue, he was named Big Ten defensive Player of the Week after forcing two fumbles and recovering one.

Over the last seven games, Borland led the team in tackles, and was third in both TFLs and sacks. On the season, he tied for the Big Ten lead with three fumble recoveries and tied for second in the conference with forced five fumbles. For good measure, Borland kept up his work on special teams, finishing second on the team in kickoff return yards and even kicking three extra points. He was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and earned first-team Freshman All-American honors from the Sporting News.

Honorable Mention
For space reasons, I picked three players from both offense and defense. When a team wins 10 games, there are countless other players who rose from near obscurity to key performers.

On offense, true freshman running back Montee Ball's emergence in the second half of the season took some pressure off Big Ten MVP John Clay, especially in the second half of the Indiana game. Junior tight end Lance Kendricks proved the UW tight end tradition should live on with his outstanding performance in the bowl game vs. Miami.

On defense, sophomore defensive end J.J. Watt made a huge impact in his first season wearing the cardinal and white. His 11.0 TFLs over the final seven games were tops on the team and took pressure off Schofield. Like Schofield, senior safety Chris Maragos was named a captain by his teammates before the season but not many realized the impact he would have on the team, both on and off the field.

Part of the beauty of college football is wondering who will be the next group of players to step into the forefront in the upcoming season. These were just a few of the "under the radar" players that helped the 2009 Badgers be a success.