September 2011 Archives

FB_110930_Herbstreit_Kirk_ESPN.jpgPrior to Thursday's practice, UW coach Bret Bielema and ESPN/ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit were engaged in an animated conversation that was more of an extension of their friendship than a chalk talk.

During his network radio show that night, Bielema playfully suggested that Herbstreit was a "nerd'' when they first met as 22-year-old seniors at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon in Chicago.

Bielema, the Iowa nose tackle, and Herbstreit, the Ohio State quarterback, went out for pizza and discovered that they had many things in common. They've enjoyed each other's company since.

"When his career was beginning to grow,'' Bielema said, "I remember Kirk coming to Iowa City as a sideline reporter for ESPN Radio and from there he kind of blossomed into what you see today.

"I know sometimes he doesn't give the Badgers a lot of love and sometimes people don't like him, but we have an unbelievable relationship. We talk once a week if not more and send texts.''

Herbstreit, who has won back-to-back Sports Emmys for Outstanding Studio Analyst, and Bielema bantered for about 20 minutes before practice got under way in the McClain Facility.

"That's probably the highlight of my job,'' said Herbstreit, 42, who grew up answering to a coach. His dad, Jim, was a halfback for the Buckeyes and later an assistant under Woody Hayes.

His ESPN/ABC job, he said, entails  "going all over the country, talking with coaches, getting in the film room with them and having a chance to really find out how these guys tick on a personal level.''

So what makes Bielema tick?

"He has not forgotten what it's like to be a player; he relates very well to players,'' Herbstreit said. "He has also surrounded himself with a great (coaching) staff.

"He's got people that he trusts to coach on both sides of the ball, which has freed him up to be more of an administrator over the top of everything else.

"At the end of the day, if you're a parent and you're going to send your son to play for Bret, you're going to know that he will always have your son's best interests in mind.''

Wilson changes Badgers' dynamic
As the stretching exercises were ending, Russell Wilson jogged over and shook Herbstreit's hand. Briefly trading pleasantries, Herbstreit promised to touch base with Wilson after practice.

"When I heard that he was looking to go to Auburn or Wisconsin,'' Herbstreit said, "I personally was hoping that he would go to Wisconsin only because I knew what was returning in Madison.

"That was the one position (quarterback) -- with Scott (Tolzien) leaving -- that was a huge question mark for the Badgers.

"So when he decided to come here, I thought if he picks up the offense, it could be really scary how good they could be.''

Herbstreit recognized that Wilson, a three-year starter at NC State, would bring a certain level of maturity to the position. "But it's still a difference scheme, different terminology,'' he said.

From the beginning, Herbstreit noted, Wilson was committed to devouring the playbook.

"What people don't understand is that it's not just the playbook,'' he said. "It's the adjustments that are associated with each play based on the coverage you see. It's remarkable what he has done.

"His poise and accuracy are two things that stand out for me. I've studied him all week. For any quarterback sitting in the pocket, there's a tendency when things aren't there to take off and create.

"Even though he has that ability to make plays with his feet, he's more than willing to let the play develop and be patient in the pocket. He has such trust in his teammates.

"To me, it's the way he has fit in from an intangible standpoint that's been very special.''

Toon makes connection with new QB
Herbstreit's film study confirmed the chemistry between Wilson and wide receiver Nick Toon.

"They're both appreciating one another,'' he said. "When you're a quarterback -- whether you want to admit it or not -- you always have 'your guy.'

"And even though you have to read a defense before you make a decision on where to go with the ball, there's always 'your guy' that you're looking for and, clearly, Toon is that guy for Wilson.''

The Badgers have been dominating opposing defenses, but Herbstreit cautioned against drawing too many conclusions off the non-conference sample, especially given the strength of their opponents.

"Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska offense will challenge Wisconsin more than it has been challenged all year,'' he said. "This is where we'll really find out how good the Badgers are.

"Up to this point, they've done everything they're supposed to do. They've beaten up on a lot of inferior teams.

"But now here's a chance for Wisconsin. If the Badgers can go out and win this game, they can earn a lot more credibility on a national level than maybe what they've received so far.''

Huskers back in contention
There's no question Nebraska has once again become a solid football program under Bo Pelini. But there is a question on how the Huskers' athleticism and physicality will translate in the Big Ten.

"In the Big 12, their defense was built for more of a 4-2-5 with five and, sometimes, six defensive backs,'' Herbstreit said, "because everybody is spreading you out and throwing sideline to sideline.

"Now they're going to face more teams that are going to try and run the football at them, right down hill. There's a transition period defensively for what they're going through.

"Bo Pelini played with me at Ohio State. He was a captain, he grew up in Ohio. Much like Bret, he knows the Big Ten. He'll be able to prepare his players for what they're about to face.

"But you have what you have. It's the same thing with Brady Hoke at Michigan. They're in a transition period and Brady is doing the best that he can.

"Eventually you have to go out and find personnel that fits your team and what you do and that might take Nebraska couple of years to do that.''

Building perception of the Big Ten
Even with the addition of the Cornhuskers, the Big Ten is still trying to earn respect, Herbstreit said. As such, Saturday's winner will not automatically join the Big Boy Football fraternity.

SEC teams have won five straight national championships.

"The perception nationally of the Big Ten is that it's a step or two down,'' he said, "so even if you win this game, you're on the outside looking in. That's the reality of playing in the Big Ten.''

That won't change, Herbstreit added, "Until we as a conference change that perception by winning some heavyweight nonconference games and (BCS) bowl games.

"With that being said, Wisconsin takes a much higher step (nationally) if it beats Nebraska than Nebraska would if it beats Wisconsin. The opportunity is there for Wisconsin.

"People respect where Wisconsin's program is with Bret as the guy in charge. But playing in the Big Ten, the reality is that you need help in order to get up there with LSU, Oklahoma and Alabama.''

Jordan and Schmitt look ahead

| No TrackBacks
WRST_110930_Jordan.jpg

The Wisconsin wrestling team looks extremely young on paper this season, but is led by two very experienced redshirt juniors, Ben Jordan and Cole Schmitt. Both wrestlers qualified for the 2011 NCAA Championships and posted their best records to date last season.

UWBadgers.com sat down with the two wrestlers to discuss what they have been working on in the offseason and what fans should expect to see out of Wisconsin's wrestling squad this year.

 

Ben Jordan

How are you going to step up this season and make an impact?

"I'm just going to do my best to lead the team. I know we had some coaching changes last year and we have a lot of young guys, so I'm going to do my part and lead by example. I'm really confident in everyone on our team."

How do you feel about wrestling at 165 lbs. this season?

"I think it's the right weight for me and I think it's probably where I should have been for my whole career. There were some things that prevented me from that. I'm looking forward to it. I have one more chance at it. It's now or never so I have to get it done."

Do you expect anyone in particular to step up this year?

"We have some sophomores who are looking to break into the line-up for the first time. It can be very intimidating coming in and starting in the Big Ten, but those guys need to focus on wrestling. They just need to go out there and give everything they have for seven minutes."

What have you been working on in the offseason to prepare for this season?

"I worked on getting back to my style of wrestling. I drifted away from a couple of years so I need to get back on the attack, always push the pace and the same things that worked in high school are going to work here."

What would a successful year look like to you?

"I want nothing less than All-American. I'm going for first in the country obviously."

 

Cole Schmitt

What did you learn from the NCAA Championship last season that you are going to apply this season?

"I need to keep wrestling every match. My head really wasn't in that second match. I think after my appendix surgery, my head just wasn't in it. For whatever reason, I was afraid to go out there and wrestle. I think I was afraid to get hurt."

What did you learn from your injury last year?

"I look at Andrew (Howe) and how he can back from his injury. He came back and it seemed like his wrestling never suffered. I came back and just didn't have the right mindset and it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to."

What will be the most notable difference in your wrestling this season?

"Strength is a big one. With (Eric) Bugenhagen's lifts this summer, our whole team is a lot stronger. I think people will notice my strength is a lot better."

Making sense of road TV, home video streams for Badger hockey

| No TrackBacks
I tried to put together a release about television for road games at North Dakota on Jan. 27-28 (Fox College Sports) and at Minnesota on March 2-3 (Fox Sports North), as well as the online streaming schedule for select Badger home games, but clearly explaining the streaming schedule is proving a challenging task.

Instead, I'm trying here in a more informal way to see if that works better.

So... there are four Badger home game streams available to anyone. Two of those are free at wpt.org/wisconsinchannel. They are Oct. 8 against Northern Michigan and Jan. 20 against Alaska Anchorage. The other two games, which involve both games of the Mercyhurst series Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 25-26), require a subscription at UWBadgers.com.

The remaining six streams will only be available to viewers residing outside the borders of Wisconsin and again require a subscription at UWBadgers.com. Please note the subscription auto renews, so unsubscribe when you are done watching games if you don't want to keep getting charged.

Why outside the state, you ask? That is because they are on TV inside the state. In the Madison area, they are either on WISC-TV or TVW. Outside the Madison area, Charter Extra will carry the games. Those games include North Dakota (Oct. 22), Nebraska Omaha (Oct. 29), Minnesota Duluth (Dec. 10), RIT (Jan. 7), Alaska Anchorage (Jan. 21) and St. Cloud State (Feb. 4).

What this means is that all 22 regular-season home games will either air on TV or be available via the web.

Hopefully that makes sense so far.

A few bonus nuggets. All of Coach Eaves' Monday news conferences, which begin next Monday at 12:30 p.m., as well as all postgame news conferences at the Kohl Center, stream live and for free at UWBadgers.com.

Many of Wisconsin's opponents stream their games live at Americaone.com. This year, that means streams for games at Bemidji State, Colorado College, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State should be available to watch.

I would suggest checking UWBadgers.com each week for possible changes to the schedule.

We will be posting a chart on the Web in the next week that should help keep you informed on where you can catch Badger hockey.

Lucas at Large: No longer a spectator, Ball steps into spotlight

FB_110929_Ball_Montee.jpg

Thousands of celebrating Badger fans did something after Wisconsin's victory over No. 1 ranked Ohio State last season that tailback Montee Ball didn't do during the game.

They got on the field.

Ball didn't play a snap against the Buckeyes, which made his late-season run -- make that his late-season running -- all the more noteworthy, especially given the numbers that Ball has put up since.

Since Oct. 23, 2010, Ball has accounted for 25 touchdowns, including at least one score in each of his last 10 games. Oregon's LaMichael James has 21 touchdowns over the same time span.

What is significant about Oct. 23?

One week after the Ohio State game, Ball came off the bench at Iowa -- replacing the injured James White in the rotation -- and scored the game-winning touchdown on a clutch 8-yard run.

That restored whatever confidence that he had lost. Ball finished with a flourish by rushing for over 100 yards in each of the final five games of the 2010 season.

After Tuesday's practice, Ball reflected on the sequence of events last October.

"The week leading up to it,'' he said of playing Ohio State, "was really exciting because we were playing the No. 1 team in the country. You can't ask for a bigger stage.

"But afterward I was a little depressed and a little sad about it (not playing).''

That prompted an office visit with his position coach, John Settle, who's now with the Carolina Panthers. Ball let him know, "I'm still committed to the team 100 percent.''

What else could he do?

"Basically I had no other options,'' Ball said. "It was either get better or go home.''

Ball informed Settle, "I'm ready whenever my number is called to go in and produce.''

Although he wasn't expecting to play at Iowa, he kept his word and delivered.

"I knew I had to get better,'' Ball said, "and I had to stay hungry.''

That's so ironic today in light of the fact that Ball has shed almost 40 pounds.

On Monday's national teleconference, Ball referenced his hunger again.

"I'm really, really hungry for this game,'' he said of Saturday's Big Ten opener against Nebraska.

That's due in part to being a spectator the last time the Badgers got a primetime kickoff against a premier opponent.

"This is what I prepared for in the off-season, and I'm loving it,'' Ball said. "I'm making sure I'm staying on top of school and everything so there are no distractions at all this week.

"I'm putting the cell phone away and focusing on Nebraska.''

That's a major sacrifice in this day and age.

UW coach Bret Bielema appreciates Ball's commitment on multiple fronts.

"The immediate effect physically is just the burst in speed and the pure things that you see him do on the football field,'' Bielema said of his weight loss. "A lot of that is because of the heart and mind.

"He's doing some things naturally and instinctive that a lot of people just don't do.''

Bielema has a great deal of confidence that Ball and White can produce in short-yardage situations, even though neither comes close to matching the size of previous UW tailbacks.

"I think we're probably more explosive than we've ever been,'' Bielema said. "I understand we don't have that real big back like we had with P.J. (Hill) and John (Clay) and obviously Ron Dayne.

"But I like the running backs we have. I wouldn't really trade them in for anything.''

Ball doesn't believe the hype surrounding the Nebraska game will be a distraction.

"We're used to it from last year and Ohio State,'' he said. "And also with Russell Wilson coming into the program there were TV cameras on him throughout training camp.''

ESPN is featuring Wilson in a quarterback special to air in October.

"They followed him everywhere,'' Ball said. "It's second nature to us now. We're used to it.''

The Voice: Big game brings spotlight back to Madison

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIt is a new era of Big Ten football, and why not start with this week's version of "The Game of the Century?" You thought last year's tussle with Ohio State was big? When it comes to hype, this Saturday night's conference opener with Nebraska might be even bigger.

Beyond the obvious of this being the Cornhuskers' first Big Ten game, the matchup also marks the first time since Nov. 24, 1962 that a game at Camp Randall Stadium featured two teams ranked in the top 10. On that day nearly 50 years ago, No. 3 Wisconsin beat No. 5 Minnesota, 14-9.

That was a few years before Chris, Lee, Kirk, Desmond, David and Erin started doing College GameDay. (I think that is the full roster, not including reporters such as Tom Rinaldi. If I left out anyone, I apologize to the good folks at ESPN)

This weekend also marks the beginning of divisional play, with the Badgers as part of the Leaders Division. Here is a simple formula to remember how the Big Ten is divided -- schools starting with the letter "M," and "N" along with Iowa -- are in the Legends Division. Everyone else is in the Leaders Division.

Divisional play also changes the tiebreaker system, making a game within the division more important. For instance, say Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois finished tied for first in the Leaders Division, and against each other, every team is 1-1. The next step in the tiebreaker is a team's record within the rest of the division. With this in mind, the games against Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana carry more weight than a game against a Legends Division team.

Yeah, I know, this week's game is really huge anyway, regardless of the fact that the Badgers and the Huskers play in opposite divisions.

The atmosphere should be electric, and earlier this week head coach Bret Bielema urged fans, especially the students, to be in the stadium and ready to roll for the opening kickoff.

Which leads to perhaps the question of the week -- how many Nebraska fans will get a ticket?  Who knows, but word is we will be able to tell the difference between the Cardinal and White and the Big Red.

Seems folks from Nebraska will be wearing black shirts. Why black shirts?  That is symbolic of the Blackshirts nickname for the Cornhuskers defense. This goes back to the early 1960s, when then-coach Bob Devaney wanted to distinguish the defensive starters in practice.

Barry Alvarez knows firsthand about the Blackshirts. He can tell you all about it. He also can tell you about that 25-yard interception return against Wisconsin when the Huskers beat the Badgers in Madison.

Anytime there is video of that play, the Hall of Fame coach catches a ton of grief. In a nutshell, I will say nobody questioned Barry's toughness, but he was not exactly a sprinter. As the old line goes, Barry picked off the pass in 1966 -- and the play ended in 1967.

No doubt that story will be told many more times this week, and that is part of what makes college football so much fun.

So do spotlight games, and Big Game America returns to Madison, Wisconsin, this Saturday as the 116th season of Big Ten football gets underway.

It is a ticket worth saving, don't you think?

Lucas at Large: Badgers embrace hype surrounding Huskers' visit

FB_110927_Wilson_Russell.jpgPositioned outside of Bret Bielema's office was a USA Today college football writer -- she was waiting for her scheduled 1:15 p.m. interview with UW quarterback Russell Wilson.

Positioned inside of Bielema's office were Wilson, tailback Montee Ball and middle linebacker Chris Borland -- they were crowded around a phone Monday for a 1-800-number teleconference.

The media obligations are part of any game week; especially this week with the Nebraska Cornhuskers coming to Madison for the Big Ten opener.

"There's not going to be anything involved when we're at practice,'' said Bielema. "But there was some outside interest out of the norm and we're doing all of that Sunday and (Monday).

"When we get into our work week on Tuesday, we'll be able to focus on what we need to do.''

ESPN's College GameDay will also be here to validate the magnitude of the matchup.

"Sometimes it's not the media,'' Bielema said of potential distractions. "It's the family requests, the friend's request; the people that want to come to town on Wednesday instead of Friday.

"That's what you've got to be guarded against.''

On the whole, Bielema wants his players to enjoy the moment, and atmosphere.

"We've worked very hard to get ourselves in the position we are today,'' he said, noting that the last time Camp Randall Stadium played host to two Top 10 ranked teams was 49 years ago.

"Hey, we're here. We don't plan on leaving. So let's take advantage of some of the opportunities that are coming in front of us.''

In front of Bielema's office desk are four "action figures'' -- Pat Richter, Barry Alvarez, Elroy Hirsch and Bear Bryant (Bielema was a finalist for the Bryant national coach of the year award in 2006).

Wilson, Ball and Borland were behind the desk taking questions on the teleconference. Radio stations in Omaha and Lincoln were represented. So were the Associated Press, ESPN.com and the New York Times.

"I think the level of excitement is extremely high,'' Wilson said of the buzz on campus. "We're excited about it. But at the same time you don't want to be too high.

"You want to focus on what you need to focus on and make sure you're doing the right things at the right time in terms of preparation. We've got to have a great week (of practice) obviously.''

No bulletin board material here.

Borland was quizzed on Taylor Martinez, the Nebraska quarterback. He put him in the same "speed" category with Michigan's Denard Robinson and former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

"Probably one of the best running quarterbacks I've seen on film,'' Borland said.

Who will be the scout team quarterback simulating Martinez for the No. 1 defense?

That honor will fall to Lance Baretz, a walk-on from Franklin High School.

"He might be the fastest guy on our football team,'' Bielema said. "But I'm not saying he's Taylor Martinez, otherwise he might be playing (for us).''

Ball fielded an unusual request. He was asked for his thoughts on the Nebraska running game.

Ball is a running back. On game week, he watches film of the Huskers' defense, not offense.

Shrugging, he still came up with a reasonable answer to appease the questioner.

That was followed by an inquiry on the impact of "Jump Around'' -- the Camp Randall anthem.

"It really gets you hyped for the fourth quarter,'' Ball said.

At about that point, Wilson excused himself for the USA Today interview.

Wisconsin's offensive line will be featured in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated.

"At first I wasn't going to do it and then I kind of decided to let it happen,'' Bielema said of his decision-making process in granting access for the magazine piece.

"They did it last week, so it wasn't a distraction to our preparation for this week. How many times has Sports Illustrated asked to come in and do an article on offensive linemen? It's very rare.''

During last Thursday's team meeting, Bielema starting prepping his players for this week.

"I talked about how everybody has a plate,'' he said, "and on that plate you can only put so much. If you put too much on it, things begin to fall off. ''

On a big platter, Bielema placed a football, a cell phone and an apple.

Each symbolized an area in a player's life; the cell phone being the social component and the apple being academics. Bielema removed the football from the platter and put it on a small plate.

The football engulfed it.

"When it comes to game day,'' Borland interpretated, "you can only handle football.''

Message received.

"Our kids really have to be great about where their focus is this week,'' Bielema said.

Badgers and NHL training camps

| No TrackBacks
It's not the easiest task to keep track of all the former Badger hockey players skating in the professional ranks these days, but we attempted to bite off one piece and find out what Badgers have been in NHL training camps up to this point. So far we've counted 25 names, with a 26th on a training camp roster, but holding out as a restricted free agent. The number has slowly increased as we discovered new names on rosters. Some have already been waived, while some have been sent to AHL affiliates.

Here's the list, in no particular order

Matthew Ford - Washington Capitals
Jake Gardiner - Toronto Maple Leafs
Brian Elliott - St. Louis Blues
Joe Pavelski - San Jose Sharks
Brad Winchester - San Jose Sharks
Derek Stepan - New York Rangers
Ryan McDonagh - New York Rangers
Adam Burish - Dallas Stars
Jake Dowell - Dallas Stars
Tom Gilbert - Edmonton Oilers
Brian Fahey - Chicago Blackhawks
Blake Geoffrion - Nashville Predators
Ryan Suter - Nashville Predators
Craig Smith - Nashville Predators
Davis Drewiske - Los Angeles Kings
Dany Heatley - Minnesota Wild
Brendan Smith - Detroit Red Wings
Cody Goloubef - Columbus Blue Jackets
Andrew Joudrey - Columbus Blue Jackets
Jamie McBain - Carolina Hurricanes
Rene Bourque - Calgary Flames
Joe Piskula - Calgary Flames
Ben Street - Pittsburgh Penguins
Jack Skille - Florida Panthers
Steve Reinprecht - Florida Panthers
Kyle Turris - Phoenix Coyotes (Unsigned Restricted Free Agent)

Men's hockey opens at No. 17

| No TrackBacks
College hockey is upon us. That became more apparent on Monday when the USCHO.com and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Polls released their first prognostication for the 2011-12 campaign.

The young (20 of 26 skaters are either sophomores or freshmen) Badgers check in at No. 17 in the USCHO.com Poll and in the receiving votes category of the USA Today Poll, which equates to No. 18. That's three spots higher than the Badgers ended the 2010-11 season in both polls.

Notre Dame comes in at No. 1 in the USCHO.com poll, while Miami tops the USA Today survey. For the WCHA, North Dakota (3/3, Denver (4/4), Colorado College (7/7), defending NCAA champion Minnesota Duluth (8/10), Nebraska Omaha (14/14) and Minnesota (19/RV), join the Badgers in the rankings.

Some context regarding preseason polls. The 2006 NCAA champion Badgers opened the season ranked No. 10, the 2010 NCAA runner-up Badgers opened at No. 13 and No. 14 and the 2003-04 Badgers opened by receiving votes, but went on a 15-game unbeaten streak early on and were within an overtime goal of the Frozen Four.

Official practice for the Badgers begins Saturday, while the Kohl Center reawakens Friday, Oct. 7 when Northern Michigan visits Madison.



Now an author, former Badger Andy Kilbride in Madison for book signing

Andy Kilbride was never cut from the Wisconsin men's basketball team. But if he was, he might have been prepared to handle the rejection.

KILBRIDE2.jpgAfter a couple firings and a lay-off in the turbulent investment world, the former UW shooting guard has penned a humorous, yet insightful advice book titled, "A Man's Guide to Getting Fired."

Kilbride will be in Madison on Friday, Sept. 30, to promote his new book. He will appear at Underground Printing (521 State Street) to sign books from 5-7 p.m.

A three-year starter for the Badgers, Kilbride (1992-95) still ranks seventh in UW history for career 3-point shooting (41.8 percent). He is now the founder of Foster Bridge Partners, LLC, a management and consulting firm, but has recently added author to his resume. Kilbride is using his new book to inspire readers to create a life centered on their passions. "A Man's Guide to Getting Fired" reveals the process he developed to push his own life and career forward.

"I stopped climbing the corporate ladder and made my own way," Kilbride said. "Now I can look back on my former miserable life with clarity and objectivity. I want to share with you what I have learned from my experiences - what I did right and what I did wrong."

book_cover.jpgAccording to Kilbride, there is a lack of available information on what to do after you lose your job and before you find a new one. With this in mind, he offers witty anecdotes and liberating advice intended to help men understand what they're going through, look within to recalibrate their professional goals and move on with their lives.

"A Man's Guide to Getting Fired" is available for sale online at www.andrewkilbride.com or Amazon.com.

Lucas at Large: 'Raw' talent Southward rounding into form

FB_110926_Southward_Dez.jpgWhen Shelton Johnson beat out Dez Southward for a starting job at safety -- in a tightly contested training camp competition -- Southward never once thought that he was getting a raw deal.

"Kudos to him because he brought it,'' Southward said.

Being labeled "raw'' is another deal; something that has been following Southward since he began playing defensive back as a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale.

Up until then, he had not played any organized football.

"I never played Pee Wee or junior varsity or any other kind of football,'' he said. "Most players can remember playing football growing up. Basketball is the only thing I remember playing.''

Southward felt like basketball was his ticket to a college scholarship, and much more.

"I thought I was going to be the next NBA superstar,'' he said.

Reality intervened when the basketball recruiters didn't knock down his door.

His stepfather, Eli Rasheed, also had a hand in pointing him in another direction.

"My dad always told me that my future was in football,'' Southward said.

Rasheed, a former defensive lineman at Indiana University, has an eye for talent, too.

He coached high school football in the state of Florida before breaking into the college ranks as an assistant at Florida Atlantic. He has been coaching the defensive line at Toledo the last three years.

Despite his dad's encouragement, Southward wasn't completely sold on the sport.

"I was kind of scared to play football,'' he confided. "Finally, I said, 'Hey, I'll give it a shot.'''

Cliché but true, there are no free lunches at Aquinas, one of the top high school programs in the country. Southward had to prove that he belonged on the field.

"I really didn't do much of anything the first couple of games my senior year,'' he said. "I really felt out of place. They had me playing deep middle, some man-to-man and blitzing.

"I definitely got it into by the end of the season. But I can honestly say that when I came here (Wisconsin) football still wasn't something that I loved to do.''

But his Badger teammates started to rub off on Southward.

"Seeing how hard they worked, how they watched film, how they worked their craft, I've come to love the sport,'' he said. "I want to do anything I can to get better and further my play on this team.''

But he wasn't looking to get playing time at the expense of his friend, Shelton Johnson, who was injured in the first half of Saturday's game against South Dakota and left the field on crutches.

"It was like Coach B (Bret Bielema) always says, 'Next man in,''' Southward echoed, "and that's how we approached it. I tried to make sure I was playing hard and there was no drop-off.

"I love Shelton to death. But if he can't make it this week, I'm going to be ready.''

Whether Johnson returns or not for the Big Ten opener against Nebraska, there's no question that the Badgers are going to need to see development out of Southward, a third-year sophomore.

"Throughout fall camp,'' said linebacker Mike Taylor, "Shelton and Dez were competing for the starting spot and you didn't know who it was going to be because they were both playing so well.

"They're both very similar in their speed and hitting. I definitely think Dez is ready.''

Southward is a naturally gifted athlete who lacks fundamental training and repetitions.

The best way to describe him?

Raw.

"When I hear that, I know that I don't quite have the instincts that others have,'' Southward said. "I need to have a little better feel for the little things in the game.

"Where I am now is a world of difference from where I was (as a freshman). But I still have a ways to go. I have to keep working on it by getting in the film room and picking Aaron's brain.''

Aaron is Aaron Henry, the UW's senior free safety.

"A guy like Aaron has a million snaps under his belt,'' said the 6-2, 200-pound Southward. "I just want to keep getting more and more snaps and keep progressing.''

Southward has put an emphasis on improving his mental preparation from practice to practice.

"I have to come every day with the mindset to get better,'' he said, "because I have days when I'm playing like a starter and I'm making plays and I'm doing everything right.

"But I also have days where I have a million mental lapses and I look like a freshman. There's nothing out there that I can't do. I just need to be consistent.

"I need to gain the trust of my coaches and teammates -- I need to show them I can help.''

The players won't need any help getting motivated for the Cornhuskers.

Said Southward, "The atmosphere coming into the locker room (after the South Dakota win) was, 'It's Big Ten time -- it's time to get locked in and focused and ready -- it's time to go.'''

Badger Blog: Chalk-talk

| No TrackBacks

SFBL_110923_Schneider.jpg

In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about last week's games and assistant coach Randy Schneider's chalk-talk.

What a great week in Badger softball. We had the opportunity to travel to Chicago last weekend for our first bus trip and hotel stay as a team. Our football team played at Soldier Field while we competed at Loyola and UIC. It was a great bonding trip to spend a weekend together as a team; we even got to enjoy a little deep dish Chicago pizza after beating Loyola Friday night.

We had a few great practices this week, breaking down film, working on the fundamentals and getting in a great sweat yesterday with our "Texas BP". We opened the season last year at the University of Texas, going 4-2 on our first road trip. We designed a great 1.5 hour batting practice/"BP" workout that featured as ton of fly balls and grounders, combined with batting practice on the field with live runners. It's amazing how much work you can get in when everything is highly organized, and planned out. Our staff takes a lot of pride in teaching the game, but also being efficient. We love to see our student-athletes hustling on and off the field, diving, playing hard, sweating and learning. It was a great day both offensively and defensively.

The highlight of the week was coach Schneider's chalk-talk. He spent a few hours on Wednesday helping our student-athletes understand what it takes to be an outstanding student-athlete. One of our biggest challenges in taking over the Badger softball program has been creating a championship culture. It takes a lot of mentoring and teaching to help create a culture of competition, exemplary work-ethic and belief. Coach Schneider challenged the team to make history, take ownership and go above and beyond the call of duty, doing extra every day.

One of my favorite quotes that coach Schneider uses is; "You're either training for something, or you're not". It's so simple, yet profound. Either you're on a path of discipline and goals, working towards some great accomplishment, or you're just coasting.  Either you wake up every day motivated to get better, or you spend your life being average.

Coach sent the poem below to the team, and it really summarizes what being a successful, motivated, division-one student-athlete is all about:

Don't wait for some distant day to come,
it may be too late before you've even begun.
Not everyone will agree with all you decide.
Be true to yourself first and foremost.
The only important thing in life is what you do
with the time you spend here on earth.
Don't be afraid to follow your desires,
they are not silly nor selfish.
Take the time and do what makes you feel alive.
Leave your fears and regrets in the past,
for this is where they belong.
Don't cloud today with things that can't be undone.
You have no more control over yesterday or tomorrow,
than you do the raging of your passions.
Do not quiet these dreams nor quench your desires.
For if you do, your journey is ended.
You have only today to begin anew and follow your dreams.
For in the end all we have are our memories.
When the twilight comes to us, let there be,
No excuses, no explanations, no regrets.

Lucas at Large: Watchful eyes on him, Johnson performs well

FB_110923_Johnson_Shelton.jpgWisconsin's Shelton Johnson doesn't mind having DeMontie Cross looking over his shoulder.

On the contrary, it's been helpful, instructive.

"That's the way anyone gets better,'' Johnson said.

Johnson is a fourth-year safety and Cross is a first-year safeties coach.

It's not like Cross is literally looking over Johnson's shoulder, either.

During practice, Cross likes to stand 20 to 30 yards behind the secondary.

"I know that he loves being back there,'' Johnson said. "When he's anywhere else on the field, he says that he can't tell what's going on.''

Cross, a former free safety at Missouri, doesn't have any problem with his voice carrying.

"He definitely makes sure you hear him,'' Johnson said.

So far this season, Johnson has been making some noise with his play -- including sharing UW's Defensive Player of the Week award for the Northern Illinois game with linebacker Mike Taylor.

"It's a great feeling to see how far you've come and what your coaches think of your play,'' Johnson said of the recognition. "I'm getting more comfortable with everyone around me and the calls.''

That shows up in the stats. Johnson leads the defense with 3.5 tackles for loss. Maybe the biggest difference in his game has been his comprehension of what he's seeing from the offense.

"It's probably just making my reads,'' he said, "and actually believing in my reads.''

In 2010, Johnson got one start against Minnesota while being the backup to Jay Valai. That was a stage in his development where he was still coming to terms with the nuances of the position.

"I know last year I hesitated a lot,'' he said. "If I saw something -- I'd know what I was supposed to do -- but there was that moment of hesitation where you're really not sure.

"I've been able to pull the trigger a lot more this year.''

Even though he's now a starter, he hasn't prepared any differently.

"When I was with Jay (Valai), we would definitely stay together on the game plan,'' Johnson said. "So I don't know that my preparation has changed a lot or been affected by starting.

"Like the coaches always say, 'You're always a play away as the No. 2.' So you have to prepare like a starter. Is there more urgency this year? Definitely.''

Johnson, who hails from Carrollton, Texas, was named to the Academic All-Big Ten team last season. Up until now, though, he has been known primarily for two things.

During a practice, he caught David Gilreath from behind.

During a game, he caught Kyle Middlebrooks from behind

Gilreath can run. So can Middlebrooks. That speaks to Johnson's speed, especially in context with Gilreath who returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Ohio State last season.

Middlebrooks had something similar in mind for Arizona State, but Johnson tackled Middlebrooks before he reached the end zone on the final play of the first half.

Dez Southward slowed him down and Johnson made the touchdown-saving play.

Johnson later said, "I hope that I'm known for more than just that one play someday.''

That's what he has been working on this season. More than anything, he has enjoyed working closer to the line of scrimmage. At times, he'll even line up as the nickel back.

"You're right there in the action,'' he said. "You're around the ball. Who wouldn't love that?''

UW coach Bret Bielema loves the way Johnson has responded to an expanded role.

"He's playing his butt off,'' he said. "He had a really, really good game (against NIU).''

Who was the first person he called when he was recognized as Defensive Player of the Week?

"I didn't have to call and tell anyone,'' Johnson said. "My mother (Angela) is on UWBadgers.com all the time. She finds out stuff before I do sometimes. She's my No. 1 fan.''

Johnson's mom is an assistant principal.

"When I went to school,'' he said with a smirk, "I couldn't do anything wrong.''

He's finding the same holds true on defense.

"You have to take the coaching,'' Johnson agreed.

Blue Ribbon Yearbook names Taylor preseason first-team All-American

Last season Jordan Taylor burst onto the college basketball scene with a monster year and a few signature games. For his efforts, Taylor was widely rewarded with second-team All-America honors.

Blue Ribbon 2011-12 Cover.jpgCount Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook as the first to think Taylor can make the leap to first-team All-American in 2011-12.

The annual preview magazine has included Taylor on its preseason first-team All-American list, joining Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), Terrance Jones (Kentucky), Kris Joseph (Syracuse) and Jared Sullinger (Ohio State).

Taylor enters his senior season after averaging 18.1 points per game (5th in Big Ten) and 20.1 ppg during conference play last year. A lethal shooter, Taylor shot 43% from 3-point range (7th in Big Ten) and 85% from the free throw line (4th in Big Ten). Taylor also led the nation with a 3.83 assist-to-turnover ratio.

In its 31st year of publication, the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook is one of the most comprehensive college basketball publications in the world. On newsstands in October, Blue Ribbon gives readers thorough, up-to-date and timely evaluations of every Division I team in the country.

To pre-order your copy today, visit www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 877-807-4857.
110922_FB_Havenstein_Rob.jpg

There's more to Rob Havenstein than meets the eye. Well, actually, there's less; much less than the 380 pounds that the UW offensive tackle carried into his freshman season at Wisconsin.

In advance of his first college start Saturday against South Dakota, the 6-foot-8 Havenstein is listed at 345 in the Badgers' media notes; and even that's an overbid. He's slimmed down closer to 335.

"I can actually move,'' Havenstein said.

But one thing hasn't changed.

"He's big,'' said UW senior right guard Kevin Zeitler, who will be lining up next to Havenstein instead of the injured Josh Oglesby. "But he's also very motivated. He wants to do well.''

Added defensive end Tyler Dippel, "He's lost the weight, but he hasn't lost any strength. If anything, he's gotten stronger. You can't say enough about how hard he works.''

A Sports Illustrated writer was recently dispatched to Madison to delve into the success of the offensive line. Work ethic, no doubt, will be one of themes when the story runs in next week's issue.

Dippel has had a front row seat for Havenstein's development.

They've been ramming helmets in practice since last fall.

"Just to see a guy of his size and stature move the way he does is really impressive,'' Dippel said. "He's come a long ways since he first got on campus as far as speed and the way he moves his feet.

"He's a guy who has a great attitude; he's always smiling, always happy. But when it's time to get to work, he does -- and that's what I really like about him.''

Havenstein has been bolstered by all the work that he got during spring practice.

"The spring was a big help for me, especially working with the ones for half the spring,'' said Havenstein, who was then frustrated during training camp after rolling an ankle. "I missed a lot of reps.''

But he's back to where he was before the injury, which is timely. Oglesby, who had been starting at right tackle, injured his knee during last Saturday's win over Northern Illinois.

"I guess the best advice I've gotten,'' Havenstein said, "is probably from Josh. He just said, 'Don't worry about all the outside pressure of everyone telling you that you're a starter. Just play your game.'

"Josh has been unbelievable to me. He has kind of helped me out with the defenses and my techniques. I've hung out with him all last year and this year. He's one of my best friends on the team.''

What's the best thing Zeitler could tell Havenstein?

"Prepare and play your butt off,'' he said. "Watch the film, get every rep you can, learn everything, know it before it happens, take a deep breath and just go play. That's the biggest thing.''

Left guard Travis Frederick has gone through his own transition to the starting lineup.

"His biggest adjustment now is to go out there and trust the coaching that's he had,'' Frederick said. "He's had reps. He's been in games. He practices every day. He just needs to trust his instincts.''

Frederick, who redshirted last season, started four games as a true freshman in 2009.

"Your first start is always a big thing,'' he said. "But it goes back to knowing your playbook. He's been with the ones and twos. Coach Bo (Bob Bostad) does a good job of rotating guys in and out.

"So you get used to communicating with everybody. If something happens, if someone goes down (with an injury), it makes it easier to make that adjustment when they come in.''

That would be the "next man up'' -- Ryan Groy for Frederick, now Havenstein for Oglesby. Despite the injuries up front, the offensive line has continued to function at a high rate of efficiency.

That will likely be another theme in the SI article.

"I can't wait for Saturday, it's going to be fun,'' Havenstein said.

There will be no shortage of incentive, especially playing next to Zeitler.

"Kevin knows what he's doing -- he's quick to react,'' said Havenstein, a high-profile recruit out of Mount Airy, Md. "I know I have to pick up my game to play to his speed.''

Getting up to speed is much easier -- minus the 45 pounds that he's lost.

"It's a process,'' he said. "I'm still working on reshaping my body, changing fat to muscle.''

But he's still big.

The Voice: However you say it, Bielema making name for himself

| 2 Comments
The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgFor a broadcaster, one of the worst mistakes we can make is mispronouncing someone's name. It is the equivalent of a writer misspelling a name. I have been guilty of that basic fundamental screw up more often than I care to admit.

In fact, a few days ago while taping a segment for the "Badger Sports Report" TV show, I referred to the South Dakota Coyotes as the "Ki-OH-tees." That is incorrect. They are the "KI-Oats."

Now you know. I would imagine it is pretty annoying for a South Dakota fan or a school administrator who time and time again will hear people say Ki-OH-tees, but I am sure they deal with it as best they can.

I would suggest they have company in the Badgers' head football coach. How often have you heard a national broadcaster butcher Bret Bielema's name? 

To some, he is Bret "Bull-EE-ma." To others, he is Bret "BILL-la-ma." There probably are some others, but "Bull-EE-ma" appears to be the leader in the clubhouse.

As Bret BEE-la-ma has said on a number of occasions, "I have been called any number of eating disorders."  

At least he can have some fun with it. Last week, Coach BEE-la-ma and Northern Illinois boss Dave Doeren were doing a radio interview together on Chicago's 670 The Score. The Badgers coach was able to chuckle when the hosts referred to his good friend as Dave "Door-ee-in."

For the record, it is "Door-in," but I am sure you Wisconsin fans knew that already.

I understand mistakes happen, but I would think by now most folks who get paid to talk about college football could properly pronounce the name of the fellow who coached his team to last year's Big Ten title. Is that asking too much? 

I mean, for crying out loud, this is Bull-EE-ma's, errrrrr, BEE-la-ma's sixth-year as head coach at a rather high-profile program. Can't these people get it right?

Of course, BEE-la-ma has company with another somewhat established coach -- Iowa's Kirk "FAIR-intz." Seems many folks still call him "Fuh-RENTS." Maybe that will make Bret feel a little better. Or maybe not.

After all, this is FAIR-intz's 13th year as the Hawkeyes' head man, so perhaps there is no end in sight for BEE-la-ma being called "Bull-EE-ma."

Oh well, maybe this is just another way Wisconsin can stay a little bit under the radar. Given the team's 3-0 start and top-10 national ranking, staying under the radar probably is a bit of a stretch, but if botching the coach's name gives the boys the feeling of disrespect, perhaps it is all for the better.

So, take heart South Dakota Ki-Oats fans. Your team is less than two weeks removed from knocking off last year's FCS national champs, and you are a top-20 team in your own right. Your squad is one year removed from beating Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Still, dummies such as yours truly fumbled your nickname. My apologies, and I plan on getting it right from now on, especially on Saturday afternoon.

As for those on ESPN and the other big boy networks who still can't get Bull-EE-ma, I mean, BEE-la-ma's name right, part of me says shame on you, while another part of me says just keep it up. BEE-la-ma appears to be surviving the blow.

Either way, I believe it is safe to say the University of Wisconsin head coach is starting to make a name for himself, no matter how the talking heads choose to pronounce it.

Lucas at Large: Bielema pleased with progress of special teams

FB_110920_Kickoff_Unit.jpg

UW coach Bret Bielema sounded like he enjoyed reviewing the Northern Illinois win.

"The film was great,'' he said Monday during his weekly news conference.

Not that there weren't things in all three phases that the Badgers must still work on.

"Things that we need to clean up to play better against better competition,'' he added.

But a few things stood out from Saturday; snap shots, if you will.

"Tyler Dippel has been a pure beast,'' Bielema said.

Dippel, a 260-pound defensive end, is the leading tackler on special teams.

On Monday, Bielema was raving about his hustle on the kickoff cover unit.

"If you really want to have some fun,'' Bielema said, "throw on the first four or five kicks from Saturday and Tyler Dippel's just a man-child ... ''

Bielema would like to see more consistency out of Alec Lerner's kickoffs; the last of which sailed out of bounds because of a lapse in concentration and focus, he said.

"But he's really been efficient about putting that ball deep in the right corner. Was it two weeks ago when the guy (Oregon State's Keynan Parker) ran out of bounds at the 2-yard-line?

"It's a very difficult kick to catch and bring it back to the middle -- or bring it up the sideline with some of the hang time. Even if he's hitting line drives, we're getting down there in coverage.''

Bielema's other memorable snap shot from Saturday was Chris Borland on a pass rush.

"There's a play where he took No. 68 (Keith Otis), who's 320 or whatever,'' Bielema said, "and he (Borland) just got a two-hand push right underneath his chest plate and threw the guy up in the air.''

For the first time this season, the Badgers had Borland rushing off the edge on passing downs. "Chris, as we well know, has got a little bit of a knack to be a pass rusher,'' Bielema said.

Borland often frustrated offensive tackles when utilized in that role as a freshman.

"He's just got so much power,'' Bielema said. "It's uncanny what he can do with his abilities.''

Dippel, meanwhile, wasn't the only special teams contributor that got Bielema's attention.

Starting fullback Bradie Ewing was also singled out.

"The NFL (scouts) really like what he does on all four phases of the kicking game,'' Bielema said. "I can't say enough great things about what he's doing from a leadership standpoint.''
Ewing is drawing favorable reviews in other areas, too.

"What we ask him to do as a blocking fullback is good,'' Bielema said. "But what he's been able to do with the passing game is very, very enticing to NFL people.''

Asked about Saturday's opponent -- South Dakota -- Bielema noted that the Coyotes have already upset No. 1 ranked Eastern Washington, the defending FCS national champion.

A year ago, South Dakota stunned Minnesota, 41-38. Quarterback Dante Warren accounted for five touchdowns (three passing) and over 400 yards of total offense against the Gophers.

South Dakota is a member of the Great West Conference; so is Cal Poly, which pushed Wisconsin to the limit in 2008 before losing in overtime, 36-35, by virtue of three missed extra points.

The South Dakota coaching staff has a working knowledge of what awaits them in Madison.

Coyotes head coach Ed Meierkort coached 11 seasons at UW-Stout before taking over the program in Vermillion in 2004, while one of his assistants, Jake Sprague, is a former UW defensive end.

It sounds like their players are ready for all-comers, too, including the Badgers.

South Dakota sophomore defensive end Tyler Starr, an Iowa native, said of the matchup, "We'll hit them in the mouth and see what happens. It's just football. Anything can happen.''

Someone brought that up to Bielema.

"That shows me that he (Starr) thinks he's going to be able to do that,''he said. "So there's definitely things that show you they're a team that lacks no confidence.''

Red-White Scrimmage set for Oct. 30

The Wisconsin men's basketball team has announced preliminary details for the annual Red-White Scrimmage sponsored by the University Bookstore. Fans can get their first look at the 2011-12 Badgers on Sunday, Oct. 30, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Kohl Center.

101016MBB-1247-Fanss.jpgAdmission, as always, is free to the public and the UW coaches and players will be available following the scrimmage for a one-hour autograph signing.

Former Badger Keaton Nankivil, who is now playing professional in Germany, was the leading scorer in each of the last three Red-White Scrimmages. Who will steal the headlines this year?

Wisconsin returns a pair of starters from last season's Sweet 16 team in second-team All-American Jordan Taylor and backcourt mate Josh Gasser. Junior Mike Bruesewitz, who averaged nearly 20 minutes per game and made 13 starts a year ago, returns in 2011-12, albeit with much less hair.

The Red-White Scrimmage will also offer fans their first look at the six newcomers on the Badgers' roster. Bo Ryan's staff welcomes five freshmen and transfer Zach Bohannon into the fray in 2011-12.

Mark your calendars now for the Red-White Scrimmage on October 30 and stay tuned to UWBadgers.com for more details as the event draws near. 

Meet the mom of Wisconsin wrestling

| 1 Comment
WRST_110919_Berndt_Sandy.jpg

BY JUSTIN MOZER
UW Athletic Communications

Coaches often receive all of the credit for a successful athletic program, but no one on the Wisconsin wrestling staff would deny that the mom of Wisconsin wrestling, Sandy Berndt, is a huge part of its success.

Now in her 14th year, UWBadgers.com sat down with Berndt to discuss the 2011-12 season and what she loves most about Wisconsin wrestling.

What are you looking forward to this season?
"I am absolutely looking forward to working with Ryan (Morningstar) and Kyle (Ruschell) because the energy level is so great this year. They're just a lot of fun to work with. They are both young and have a lot to learn, but they're willing to learn and haven taken on any job I have thrown their way so far. We have a really great rapport between all of us. It's going to be a fun year."

How has your relationship developed with Ruschell and Trevor Brandvold from being former wrestlers to now co-workers of yours?
"I still have to whip them into shape every now and then, but I think the transition has been pretty good. They respect me enough as the older woman in the office that we get along just fin."

What are your everyday duties as the mom of Wisconsin wrestling?

"Everyday duties change every day. That's the fun part of this job. I don't think I've had two days alike since I've been here. Anything from taking care of something a student might need academically, or the NCAA clearinghouse, or the coaches getting trapped at a car rental because they don't have their corporate card with them. We have a full gambit of things that go on. Then you throw Bucky on top of that and I have enough to keep me busy."

What is your favorite thing about Wisconsin wrestling?
"The energy and Barry. To know Barry, you can't help but love him because he is so excited about this sport and has such a passion for it. He moves a mile a minute with ideas, but he's just fun to be around. He keeps you young. If you can't keep up with him, you better get out of the way."

Lucas at Large: Starks back on campus to finish what he started

| 2 Comments
FB_110916_Starks_Scott.jpegWhen Scott Starks left Wisconsin, he wasn't sure if he'd ever return to get his degree.

"I really didn't know,'' said the former All-Big Ten cornerback. "I really didn't think about it.''

That's because Starks was chasing his dream to play in the National Football League.

In the 2005 draft, he was a third-round selection (87th overall) of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Kind of my whole mindset, to be honest, was to make it to the League,'' he said.

It's not like he didn't embrace being a student-athlete.

"I still wanted to get a good education while I was here,'' he said.

But when he left school, he left -- dropping classes the second semester of his senior year.

Looking back on that decision now, Starks said, "My whole mindset was wrong.''

Six years later, Starks has come back to the UW to finish what he started.

"Now that I'm back in school, my mindset is right,'' said the 27-year-old Starks, a St. Louis native. "School is almost easier (this time around) or I'm just more interested.''

Starks is taking 17 credits this semester. He will need one more class in the spring for his degree.

If he could do it all over again, would Starks have dropped out of school when he did in '05?

"I would not have,'' he said. "That's one of the reasons why I came back -- to have an influence on these younger guys and help them make some better decisions than I made.

"Not that I made a terrible decision; but I could have made a much better one.''

The NCAA is now in the process of encouraging former athletes, like Starks, to come back for their degrees by creating opportunities for them to coach and go to school.

Less than two weeks ago, Starks began working with the Badgers as a volunteer student assistant; much to the delight of UW coach Bret Bielema, who sees the value in having Starks around.

"While he's finishing his degree,'' Bielema said, "he's got all the same rights and privileges as a graduate assistant so that he can work on the field and in the office.

"Obviously, a guy who has just played five years in the (NFL) is a good example for our kids.''

In each of his first three seasons with Jacksonville, Starks played in every game, starting once. In addition to excelling on special teams, he also served as the Jaguars' nickel back.

Going into his fourth season, he tore a pectoral muscle during training camp which put him on the sidelines for two games. In late September, he returned to play against the Indianapolis Colts.

"I was on special teams,'' Starks recalled, "and I was just running straight ahead -- I really didn't do anything -- when my knee buckled on the turf.''

Starks blew out the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and went on injured reserve.

Over the next two seasons, he played in only a handful of games before being released.

"I was not the same player,'' he admitted. "The ACL injury put a damper on my career.''

Starks had a few nibbles to keep playing but nothing of substance.

"I just made the decision to move on,'' he said. "I wanted to get my degree and I wanted to get into coaching. I talked to coach B (Bielema) and he told me I could help out here and get my feet wet.

"Everyone has welcomed and accepted me. I can get some things on my resume and get my degree at the same time. As a coach, I'm learning the ropes and gaining experience.''

He's also sharing his experience with the UW cornerbacks.

"His first couple of years here were a little bumpy,'' Bielema said of Starks, who was forced to start as a true freshman, "and he can help guys through their own trials and tribulations.

"I love Sparky. He was a key player when I first came in (as defensive coordinator). He was a guy I knew I'd have to win over if I was going to have respect on the defensive side of the ball.

"It's funny because whenever we'd break the defensive huddle, Sparky would always hang on to my hand for an extra three or four seconds; it was like something out of Hoosiers.''

Bielema, fittingly, extended a hand to Sparks to come back on campus. "Hopefully,'' Bielema said, "if everything works out, he'll be my graduate assistant next fall.''

Starks has the potential to be a pretty good role model; especially for someone like Marcus Cromartie, who will be making his first career start Saturday against Northern Illinois.

What would he tell him?

"Just do what you've been taught,'' Starks said. "The coaches have put together a great game plan. All he has to do his play his techniques, relax and just play ball.

"It's the same game that he's been playing since he was 7 or 8. It's still football.''

Starks has been especially impressed with cornerback Antonio Fenelus.

"He has grown a lot since I've been here,'' he said. "He's playing bigger than his size. With his techniques, he's really working his craft.''

The 5-foot-9, 178-pound Starks relied primarily on his speed.

"He's more of a technician,'' he said of Fenelus. "He definitely has some things to work on but from what I've seen, if he continues to improve at this rate, he can definitely play (in the NFL).''

Starks will forever be remembered for one play.

In 2004, the Purdue Boilermakers were 2 minutes and 49 seconds and one first down away from sealing a 17-14 victory over the Badgers in a Big Ten showdown.

On third-and-2 from the 37-yard line, Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton ran a bootleg.

Starks and UW safety Robert Brooks sandwiched Orton, the ball came out and Starks scooped and scored -- sprinting 40 yards with the fumble recovery for a dramatic game-winning touchdown.

"To be honest,'' Starks said, "I still bump into people who bring that play up to me. I would have never thought that would be a play that so many people would remember.''

They still haven't forgotten -- or forgiven -- in West Lafayette.

The Voice: New uniforms? Most are uniformly ugly

| 2 Comments
The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgJust two games into the college football season and there has been no shortage of hot topics. Thrilling games, such as Michigan's 35-31 victory at home against Notre Dame, South Carolina's shootout with Georgia, and defending national champion Auburn pulling out a pair of close encounters have given the national pundits plenty to talk about.

Already there is chatter about Heisman Trophy candidates and BCS title game contenders. It is kind of silly, but I have to admit it is kind of fun as well. It sure beats talking about schools on probation, doesn't it?

There is one storyline that once again has reared its ugly head. It has been an ongoing problem in college football, and I am afraid it will get worse before it gets better. Of all the matters on NCAA President Mark Emmert's plate, this is one I feel strongly about -- ugly uniforms!

At this time I would like to publically thank the University of Wisconsin for keeping it simple. Yes, a couple of times the Badgers have come out with dramatically different unis, such as in the 1995 season opener against Colorado. They resembled the old Dallas Cowboys, only with different colors.

In 2005, the UW went to the throwback uniforms from the early 1960s. Actually, it was a pretty classy look, and if nothing else, at least you could read the jersey numbers.

How 'bout some of the threads we have seen so far this season? Guilty parties include Georgia in its season-opening loss to Boise State. Or how about Maryland in its first game against Miami?

As a caller to Tim Brando's national radio show observed, the Terps' helmets made the players look like crash test dummies.

And do not get me started on Oregon. I really like and respect the Ducks program, but I blame them for this trend of programs that seem to need 30 different uniform combinations.

I get the throwback thing. I actually liked the turn-back-the-clock uniforms Michigan and Notre Dame sported last Saturday.

Even the officials went with the attire of yesteryear, complete with the snappy hats. I just don't get the multi-colored, multi-combo, I-Have-No-Idea-Who-You-Are ensembles.

Thank goodness Barry Alvarez is more of a traditionalist. Sure, the Badgers' uniforms can change slightly, but the UW Athletic Director is a believer in the brand, so why mess with it? When you see the Motion W on the helmets, you know it is Wisconsin. Keep the excess junk off the jerseys too -- names, numbers and maybe a couple of stripes will do.

I must be getting old, but give me the simple uniforms such as Penn State and Alabama. If you follow college football and see those uniforms, you know who is playing, right?

Some of this is selfish. As a broadcaster, I am a big fan of jerseys with easy-to-read numbers. Give me a sharp contrast between number and shirt, and I am a happy little announcer.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine called a game involving Oregon and said it was a nightmare. The Badgers' Champs Sports Bowl game with Miami was no picnic either -- the Hurricanes' road jerseys were not fan or announcer friendly.

More importantly, I would think a fan/alum of a school takes pride in the tradition of the program.

Yes, some have a richer history than others, but unless you are an upstart program, embrace the tradition that exists.

Then again, maybe this is just another old school vs. new school issue. What do you think?

Lucas at Large: Gilbert develops instinct to complement physical tools

FB_110915_Gilbert_David.jpegUW coach Bret Bielema likes to be consistent when he walks into the locker room at halftime.

"Usually, I kind of come in and give my 'The score is 0-0 ... We're going to play well (in the second half) ... Let's hydrate,''' he said.

That would be standard operating procedure; his business-as-usual message to the team.

But it took a different turn for Bielema at halftime of last Saturday's game against Oregon State.

That's when he crossed paths with defensive end David Gilbert.

"A lot of times,'' Bielema said, "kids take a big step when they kind of have that -- for the lack of a better  term -- that killer mentality, that sense of 'Okay, I got something here.'

"I know on Saturday, he was having his way with an (Oregon State) offensive tackle and David was going nuts about 'Whoever gets this guy, you should own him. He can't block you.'''

Bielema had not often seen this side of Gilbert -- the raging bull.

"He had been this nice, baby-faced David Gilbert,'' Bielema said, "who I had seen kind of grow into a man right in front of us.''

Physically, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Gilbert has always looked the part.

"David has always been genetically gifted,'' Bielema said.  "He's just naturally had some intangibles that a lot of people don't have ... (they) don't have the same blessing that he does.''

But it has been a process for Gilbert, who's young for his class. He's a junior and only 19.

Nonetheless, Bielema saw Gilbert in a much different light last Saturday.

"I think that light bulb has finally come on,'' he said.

Bielema was not alone in that assessment of Gilbert.

"It was his best performance since he's been on campus,'' said defensive line coach Charlie Partridge. "He got pressure on the quarterback, and he did a nice job in the run game.

"You can see a guy who's starting to peek around the corner -- he just kind of needs that confidence boosting performance -- hopefully that's something that he takes and builds on.''

That's what co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash saw out of Gilbert, too.

"Saturday was probably the best day of football that he's had since he's been on campus,'' Ash said, "or at least since I've been on campus with him. He played at a high level.

"What we saw out there on Saturday is what we've been hoping to see out of David.''

How did Gilbert handle such a favorable report card from the Oregon State game?

"I'm less disappointed than I have been in my career, but I'm not satisfied,'' he said after Wednesday's practice. "I'm glad the coaches thought that I stepped up my game.

"But I know, for me, that's nothing compared to what I can do -- and will do in the future.

"It just pushes me harder each week.''

Gilbert said the biggest difference has been being "more confident in my pass rush.''

That has taken some time to hone if not master. It's still a work in progress.

"I think the thing that he's probably taking to the football field now,'' Bielema said, "is the fundamentals that Coach Partridge teaches on every play.''

Partridge explained, "It has taken him a couple of years to get his steps and hands in line.''

That would be the coordination of feet, hands and/or strikes to huge offensive tackles.

"When you come from Florida,'' said Gilbert, a native of Coral Springs, "we have small (offensive) linemen and people tell you that you're undersized.''

With the help of Ben Herbert and the UW strength and conditioning staff, he has bulked up.

"That's always been one of his issues -- his weight,'' Ash said. "He's tall and lean. But he's gotten a lot stronger and put on a lot of weight. We just have to keep it on him during the season.''

What excites Gilbert the most? "If I can put on a couple of more pounds here and there, I know that it will help a lot,'' he said. "I still have a lot of growing to do.''

At the same time, Gilbert has been growing more and more confident in his own abilities. That was the backdrop to Bielema searching for the right term to describe Gilbert's development.

How about killer instinct instead of killer mentality?

Gilbert nodded approvingly.

"Right before the half when I was getting a lot of pressure on that (Oregon State) quarterback,'' Gilbert said, "you could smell the blood in the water. You could feel that tackle was not comfortable.

"That's just a great feeling because I feel like I'm in control at that point. That's what killer instinct is. You smell that weakness -- that fear -- and you capitalize on it.''

Defensively, the Badgers made great strides between game one and two.

"We're most excited about the difference in effort from snap to whistle,'' Partridge said. "We got a chance to play a bunch of guys (last Saturday) and our tackling was better.

"All the things that everybody in the stands could see that we needed to improve on (from the UNLV game), we felt like we took steps in the right direction.''

It's quite possible that Northern Illinois' dual-threat quarterback Chandler Harnish will be among the best quarterbacks -- if not THE best -- that the Badgers will face all season.

"We have a lot of respect for him,'' Gilbert said.

"But we want to take his head off at the same time.''

Sounds like that killer mentality is becoming an instinct.

Men's cross country climbs to No. 2 in national poll

| 1 Comment
MXC_110913_Team_Huddle.jpg

BY BRANDON HARRISON
UW Athletic Communications

Following its first week of competition in the 2011 season, the Wisconsin men's cross country team continues its rise in the national rankings.

UW moves up to No. 2 in this week's national coaches poll, which was released Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The Badgers -- who received one first-place vote -- jump Stanford in the newest rankings, moving up one spot from their previous No. 3 ranking.

Last week, the team had its first taste of competition, competing in the Badger Opener. Falling just short of Marquette, UW earned a second-place team finish with a score of 29.

Sophomore Drew Shields led the way, finishing with a time of 18 minutes, 20 seconds and earning the individual win. Freshman Alex Hatz gave the Badgers another top-five finisher, coming in at 18:28.5 for fourth place.   

In addition to their new national ranking, Wisconsin remains rated No. 1 in the Great Lakes Region, according to the USTFCCCA.

The Badgers prepare this week for their first road trip of the season with the Orange and Blue Preview taking place on Friday. The 6-kilometer race will be held in Champaign, Ill., and is scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m.

USTFCCCA Men's Cross Country Rankings - National Coaches Poll

RankSchool (1st-Place Votes)
PointsRegionLast Week
1Oklahoma State (10)
357Midwest1
2Wisconsin (1)
344Great Lakes3
3Stanford (1)
341West2
4Iona
300Northeast5
5Oregon
298West4
6Oklahoma
296Midwest6
7Indiana
284Great Lakes8
8Colorado
283Mountain7
9Florida State
266South8
10Portland
253West10
11Northern Arizona
224Mountain12
12Princeton
222Mid-Atlantic11
13NC State
217Southeast13
14Syracuse
216Northeast14
15Arkansas
192South Central15
16BYU
191Mountain16
17Providence
158Northeast18
18Villanova
150Mid-Atlantic17
19Louisville
135Southeast20
20Virginia
127Southeast19
21New Mexico
121Mountain21
22Georgetown
92Mid-Atlantic22
23Notre Dame
88Great Lakes23
24Minnesota
85Midwest27
25Texas
72South Central24
26Ohio State
68Great Lakes25
27Florida
48South26
28Eastern Kentucky
41Southeast28
29Dartmouth
29Northeast30
30North Carolina
22SoutheastRV

Others Receiving Votes: Penn State 20, Arizona State 16, Lamar 6, Washington 5, Michigan 3, Alabama 3, Texas A&M 2, William and Mary 2, Michigan State 1, Columbia 1.

Dropped Out: No. 29 Arizona State

Season steps off at first Hill

Leaves changing color, weekends full of football and giant men in red and white running "The Hill" at Elver Park... rites of fall in Wisconsin.

IMG_0759.JPGThe 2011-12 Wisconsin men's basketball season officially started on Sept. 7 with the year's first running of "The Hill." The time-honored tradition stepped off with eight repetitions up and down the hill that measures over 100 yards long and roughly a 35-percent grade.

The team will increase reps until reaching 22 by mid-October.

On day one, 15 of the 17 Badgers were in attendance, with only Jared Berggren and Rob Wilson absent due to a class conflict. Jordan Taylor (recovering from ankle surgery in July) and J.D. Wise (broken foot in 2010-11) were both held from running the hill, but did other strength and conditioning activities on the side.

Wearing weighted vests, Taylor and Wise took turns throwing weighted medicine balls backward up the hill and doing various other exercises.

"The foot's feeling pretty good, it's getting there," Taylor said after the workout."I'm about 70 percent right now. It should be better by the next week or two."

As part of the Legacy Reunion -- drawing nearly 300 former UW football players to Camp Randall Stadium -- what do you think some of them will be thinking about when they step on the field Saturday?

Maybe Joe Armentrout will be thinking about his 120 rushing yards against Northern Illinois in 1985.

Maybe Neil Graff will be thinking about his two touchdown passes to tight end Larry Mialik against Penn State in 1970.

Maybe Josh Hunt will be thinking about his 89-yard punt return for a touchdown against Western Michigan in 2000.

Maybe Ira Matthews will be thinking about his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Iowa in 1976.

Maybe Matt Vanden Boom will be thinking about his three interceptions against Michigan in 1981.

Maybe Matt Nyquist will be thinking about his school record 13 pass receptions against Iowa in 1995.

Maybe Tom Brigham will be thinking about his 91-yard touchdown run against Western Michigan in 1963.

Maybe Billy Marek will be thinking about his 304 rushing yards and five touchdowns against Minnesota in 1974.

Maybe Dan Lanphear will be thinking about his blocked punt against Ohio State in 1959.

Maybe Darryl Sims will be thinking about his six tackles for loss against Northwestern in 1982.

Maybe Pat Richter will be thinking about his three touchdowns catches against Illinois in 1961.

What will Dr. Michael Brin be thinking about Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium? Will he be thinking about the crowd surge in the student sections following the 1993 game against Michigan?

Brin said that he will try not to think about it.

"I try to put into perspective what my role was not only on that team but after that game,'' he said. "To this day, I'm still grateful that I played a role.''

Aimee Jansen will likely be forever grateful for Brin, who pulled Jansen from the crush of bodies after a "human tidal wave'' washed over the sections, injuring more than 70.

Sari Weinstein will likely be forever grateful for Brin, who administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to Weinsten, one of the many pinned in the stampede.

For his heroic actions in rescuing people, Brin, a walk-on receiver, was named as the ABC Person of the Week by the late Peter Jennings.

"I really don't get recognized any more for the stampede,'' said Brin, 37. "But it has come up in conversations every once in awhile.

"One of the more recent times was when one of my son's friends performed a Google search while I was coaching their flag football team.''

Brin will be bringing his two sons -- Zachary, 7; and Jacob, 4 -- to Saturday's game.

He bought season tickets for the first time this year.

"We've watched Badger games together on TV,'' he said. "And my oldest has asked, 'Daddy, did you do that?' I kind of tell him that I really didn't play too much but I was there (on the team).''

After leaving the UW with his undergraduate degree in zoology, Brin got his master's in public health at Illinois-Chicago and then went on to medical school and his residency in Chicago.

For the last six years, Brin has been living in Mequon and working as an ER doctor. He's the medical director of the Emergency Department at Columbia St. Mary's-Ozaukee.

"In reflection, it's easy to see how the lessons coach (Barry) Alvarez and his staff used in coaching us on the field were applicable to life off the field,'' Brin said.

"Many of those lessons -- like honesty, hard work without cutting corners or making excuses, perseverance and self-discipline -- are the same lessons that became a part of my personality.

"Coach Alvarez -- along with Brad Childress and Jay Norvell -- preached discipline and doing your job and after four years of getting that pounded into your head, it just becomes who you are.''

Being a walk-on also impacted Brin's perspective on life.

"If you want something,'' he said, "go out and earn it. No matter what you think you can or can't do -- no matter what people tell you -- you can do it if you really want to.''

What does the Legacy Reunion mean to Dr. Michael Brin?

"I can't wait to meet some of the people who came before me and have played for UW since I graduated,'' he said. "The football program has created an amazing legacy ...

"I'm both humbled and proud to have been a part of that, no matter how small my role was. I'm humbled because I look at what the football program has become.''

He's also humbled "to think that I too had the privilege to put on the pads and helmet and walk through the tunnel wearing a Badger uniform. Little did I know how much that it really meant then.

"But it definitely means more to me now.''

Nearly 300 former players here Saturday will likely share that sentiment with Brin.

"It's the closest thing to a fraternity that we will get,'' he said.

Truth or myth... Badgers top 10 non-conference schedule?

| 1 Comment
Every year when schedules are announced, fans and experts alike quickly analyze the lineup of games and make judgments about the schedule's toughness.

It's a natural reaction and we all do it. We go down the list game-by-game and say: "easy win, tough game, easy win, easy win, tough game, toss-up, no chance, easy win, etc."

081223MBB-6210-30_sm.jpgWe all try to determine whether the schedule is easy, hard or somewhere in the middle. That's how we pass the time and fill our water cooler discussions when we're still two months from tip-off.

The thing that often goes unrecognized, is that this preseason ritual is based off of the previous' results and hype surrounding each opponent. The real measure of a schedule should be done after the season when you can analyze how each opponent performed instead of how each opponent was supposed to perform.

"Schools can never really be sure how their non-league opponents will fare in a given season," ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi wrote recently. "Teams can schedule so-called "up" games in tournaments, home-and-home series, one-way road trips, etc., and said opponents can underachieve for any number of reasons."

Using Wisconsin as an example, last season provided two terrific examples of how unpredictable scheduling can be. At the time UW faced Notre Dame in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic, the Irish were not even receiving votes in the AP poll and were largely predicted to finish anywhere from seventh to 10th in the Big East. Notre Dame went on to go 27-7 and finish second in the rugged conference.

On the flip side, UW's dance partner in the 2010 Big Ten/ACC Challenge was NC State, an up-and-coming team that entered the season with a returning all-conference pick, a top-ranked recruiting class and as a lock for a top-half finish in the ACC. Instead, the season unraveled quickly (including an 87-48 loss at the Kohl Center) and led to head coach Sidney Lowe's resignation and a 15-16 record.

Notre Dame or NC State from 2011 illustrate that predicting the future is a difficult exercise. The real analysis of a schedule should come when the nets are being cut down at the Final Four.

With that in mind, Lunardi recently examined the schedules of every BCS team over the last four seasons based on results, not predictions. He ranked the schools that have played the toughest non-conference schedules over that span and revealed that Wisconsin has played the ninth-toughest slate on that list.

So... truth or myth, Wisconsin plays weak non-conference schedules? The proof is in the numbers:

Nonconference SOS (Last four seasons)

School (Avg Rank) 2011 2010 2009 2008
1. Tennessee 19.50 3 71 1 3
2. Georgetown 33.50 2 4 7 121
3. Arizona 36.75 46 20 77 4
4. Duke 44.50 47 42 50 39
5. Michigan State 47.50 17 105 22 46
6. Connecticut 52.00 38 6 105 59
7. Syracuse 52.00 126 34 28 20
8. Michigan 55.75 52 103 53 15
9. Wisconsin 59.00 111 29 42 54
10. Pittsburgh 61.50 94 47 15 90
West Virginia 61.50 4 26 60 156

Meet the new Badger wrestling staff

| No TrackBacks
The 2011 Wisconsin wrestling team features several fresh faces with seven newcomers on its squad. Along with the incoming freshman, head coach Barry Davis' staff features three new assistant coaches, Ryan Morningstar, Kyle Ruschell and Trevor Brandvold.

UWBadgers.com sat down with these new coaches to get a better idea about what they expect from the team and what exactly they bring to the table.

Ryan Morningstar

How do you like the switch to Wisconsin?

"I like it a lot. It's a good fit for me. We have a good group of guys and a good staff. I'm working hard to win some national championships."

What do you bring to the program?
"I bring a hard work ethic and my experience on three national championship teams means I know what it takes to win. I just want to pass that on to these guys. I'm on my own now and I couldn't be in a better place."

What are your everyday duties as assistant coach?
"Right now, I am doing a lot of recruiting. I've been visiting and talking with guys. It's just getting going now as far as our season goes. We start our first practice next week and I'm excited for that."

What would you like to accomplish this year as a coach and what would you like to see the team accomplish?
"I think they are one in the same. If the team does well, I do well. My goals are that they reach their goals. I just want to help the team be the best they can be."
 

Kyle Ruschell

What do you hope to get out of this season?
"I think we really have to work with our younger guys and have them step up. I know their goal is to be All-Americans and national champions, but my own goal is to do everything I can to make that happen."

What is your primary role as the assistant coach?
"We separated the guys individually with different coaches. I'll take what I know about each guy and help them develop at each position. The big thing for our guys right now is bottom. I'm working primarily with 141, 149 and 157 lbs."

How is recruiting going?
"We've been doing just a little bit so far. I think we're going to go see a couple more guys soon. It's fun. I remember when I got recruited here and I just try to take what I learned from that. It was a great experience and I want to make the experience just as good for those kids."

How is being a coach going to help you with your wrestling?
"I've already started to view things differently. From practices to even position-wise in wrestling. Instead of looking at a move and trying to duplicate it, I see why it works."

Trevor Brandvold

How has the year been going so far?
"The guys have been doing a really good job working out on their own and lifting with Eric Bugenhagen, which I think has been great. They are going to be really strong this year and that's exciting. We'll start up with some regional training site practices. I'm really looking forward to getting back on the mat with those guys."

How do you feel about being a coach and not on the mat competing for UW?
"It's going to be new and exciting. Last year was kind of a cool year as a transition because I was one of two seniors. I think the guys already looked up to me as a team captain, so I feel like I am almost in the same role now as a younger coach, and a guy they can approach with their problems on and off that mat. I'm really looking forward to being there for them in that way. I'm excited to take an extra step in the coaching realm."

What is your goal as a coach this year?
"My goal this year is to really focus on the bigger guys and to help them get better. I know what it takes to succeed at a high level at the upper weights so I'm looking forward to working with the bigger guys. Also, being there for the guys on and off the mat is important to me. I also thing I bring an intensity and some unique techniques."

Badger Blog: Back to school

| No TrackBacks

adix_schneider_healy_SDSU_2011BLOG.jpg

Catch up with coach Healy as the Badgers return to Madison for the fall season.

It's great to have the softball team back on campus and practicing. I'm amazed at how fast the summer flew by. This was the Healy family's first summer in Madison, and although I was on the road recruiting and doing camps around the country, my husband Shawn, our three year old daughter Grace and I found some time to enjoy  Madison's Farmer's Market, the Zoo, a few festivals and the beaches.

We had our first football game on Thursday, Sept. 1, beating UNLV 51-17.  It was nearly 90 degrees at kick-off, one of the hottest games ever played at Camp Randall. 

Last week we had our softball kick-off meeting and classes began. Our men's hockey coach, Mike Eaves, addressed the softball team, sharing some words of wisdom and keys to success. Mike won a national championship as a student-athlete at Wisconsin in 1977 and led the Badgers to a national championship in 2006 as the head coach. Mike is competitive, dynamic and passionate. It's no wonder UW hockey leads the country in attendance, filling the Kohl Center with nearly 16,000 fans every home game. 
  
Mike shared Wisconsin hockey's focus this season, "PAD". "P" is for Persistent work ethic, "A" is for attitude and "D" is for discipline.

Persistent Work Ethic. The goal is to show up each day and truly focus on the task at hand. Get a little better every day. Create a ritual before stepping on the ice or field that allows you to tune out distraction and prepare to learn. Appreciate the opportunity to grow. Be deliberate about practice, do something that will turn your head around before entering the arena each day. 

Attitude. See everything as a challenge, negative attitudes only gets in the way of your progression. Mike spoke about the book "Talent Is Overrated", by Geoff Colvin. The greatest life lessons and achievements come from those who are determined and have great attitudes. If your approach is great, and you stay positive throughout the learning process, you'll surpass even those who walk through the doors with more talent.

Finally, Discipline. Discipline is not a bad thing. It's not only a word that means you've done something wrong. True self-discipline allows you to organize your life, prioritize your tasks and accomplish. Discipline is the opposite of chaos. If you had no order or organization to your schedule, you'd never get your homework finished, you'd never find anything in your room.  Discipline allows you to focus time on the most important tasks, prioritize your life and ultimately achieve your goals due to sacrifice and order.  

Our Badger softball team is so lucky to meet and learn from some of the best coaches in the country. After winning 30 games in 2011, we know our biggest challenge will be sustaining what we've started to create, and creating a culture of success.

Great athletic teams:
1) Create momentum.
2) Sustain moment.
3) Build a winning legacy. 

That's our goal for 2012.
 

 

Lucas at Large: Fenelus continues to grow into role at cornerback

FB_110909_Fenelus_Antonio.jpegUW coach Bret Bielema reflected on what he first saw in cornerback Antonio Fenelus.

"He thinks he's Deion Sanders,'' Bielema said.

That got the attention of some people at his Monday press conference.

But the key word is "thinks.'

Few players can measure up to "Prime Time.''

 Sanders, after all, was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For the record, Bielema qualified his statement on Fenelus.

"Every South Florida corner thinks they're Deion Sanders,'' he said.

More importantly, he added, "They've just got to believe that.''

The Badgers recruited Fenelus out of Boca Raton, Fla. Although he received few scholarship offers -- Fenelus picked the UW over Florida Atlantic -- there was just something about his makeup.

"Not to sound like a know-it-all,'' Bielema said, "I thought we'd get what we got. I thought he was a very tough player. Mom raised a good kid. Coach bragged about how hard he worked.''

But there was a difficult transition period for Fenelus to college football.

"I remember sitting down with him a couple of different times,'' Bielema said. "He thought that he was getting the shaft -- typical stuff. I just said, 'Antonio, stick to it.'

"At the end of last year, I don't know if there was a corner that was playing as well as he was in our conference. Because he knows his weaknesses, he knows his strengths.

"And he knows how to play within the system.''

Mostly, he knows how to compete.

Spend 10 minutes with Fenelus and he'll use the word "compete'' at least 10 times.

"The thing I love about Antonio,'' Bielema said, "he's a great competitor; really good.''

After Wednesday's practice, Fenelus talked about learning how to compete in the Big Ten.

"Coming out of my sophomore year," he said, "I made sure I competed on every play. That's what I lacked before -- just having the confidence (to compete).''

The 5-foot-8 Fenelus doesn't feel like his lack of size is a detriment to his game.

"I treat every receiver the same whether they're short or tall,'' he emphasized. "I just go out there and compete no matter what the size.''

That played out in the opener when he was matched against UNLV wide receiver Phillip Payne, who's 6-3, 205-pounds. The Rebels didn't hesitate to try and exploit that matchup.

"I knew they were going to target me just because I was a little shorter,'' Fenelus said. "But I just had to make sure I competed.

"I'm usually much shorter than the receivers. But I still make sure that I compete so they give me the same respect that they would any taller corner.''

Bielema cited Fenelus' ball skills -- he used to return kicks -- and understanding of leverage.

"He understands body position,'' Bielema said. "And he watches a bunch of film. That's why a guy like Antonio gets better as the year goes on because he has film to watch.''

Fenelus confirmed as much about his viewing habits.

"That's how I've gotten a whole lot better -- study, study,'' he said. "If you know what those receivers are going to be running against you then you've got a better chance of winning every snap.''

In the UNLV game, Fenelus was flagged for pass interference on Payne even though it appeared that he executed his techniques perfectly and had the ideal inside leverage to break up the play.

Bielema disputed the penalty.

"I thought he had every right to the football,'' he said.

So did Fenelus.

"But the ref told me that I was kind of cutting him off and learning against him too much,'' he said.  "The refs are going to win every time. I'm just trying to fix what he said I was doing wrong.''

Fenelus doesn't come off like "Prime Time.''

Until you ask him if he wants to be a playmaker.

"Most definitely,'' he said. "I try to go after the ball every time. If they throw to my side I look at that as a challenge. I try to make a pick every time they throw my way.''

Despite finishing second in the Big Ten with four interceptions last season, does Fenelus still feel like some opposing offensive coordinators believe they can attack him?

"I really don't focus on that too much,'' he said. "I just play to the best of my ability. If they want to throw the ball my way, there are more plays for me to make. That's how I look at it.''

One last thing. "I just want to make sure I compete every play,'' he said.

Lucas at Large: Images of 9/11 still fresh for Byrne

MXC_110908_Byrne_Mick.jpeg

Sunday will mark 10 years since the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Many will have flashbacks, including UW men's cross country coach Mick Byrne, who headed up his own program at Iona College in New York for 19 seasons before joining the Badgers in 2008.


Mick Byrne remembered stopping at a neighborhood deli for his morning coffee and hard roll when he heard the news: a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Byrne immediately returned to his home in City Island, N.Y.; which sits on the western end of Long Island Sound, south of Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and east of Eastchester Bay.

"From my front porch I can see the whole skyline of lower Manhattan, and I saw the smoke,'' Byrne said. "At that stage, I don't think it hit home exactly what was going on.''

So he didn't alter his plans. He drove his oldest son, Aidan, to school and headed for work at Iona College, which is about 40 minutes north of Manhattan in Westchester County.

"By the time I got there the second plane had hit the South Tower,'' Byrne said.

"Then we all knew what was going on.''

Byrne picked up his son and they returned home.

"It was very sobering,'' said Byrne, knowing that many of the workers in lower Manhattan lived in Westchester County. "There were a lot of people from that area in the towers.''

Byrne's wife, Mary Jo -- a physician's assistant in cardiology -- was called into help.

"My next memory was that night on City Island,'' he said, "and everybody getting together in restaurants and bars and kind of watching all the reports on television about what was going on.''

Two firefighters who lived on City Island lost their lives, Byrne added.

"As the days and weeks went on,'' he said, "you'd hear more and more from people who knew somebody that was killed. Everyone knew someone who knew someone ...''

Byrne recognized the name of a former runner who had been out for cross country at Iona for only six to eight weeks before leaving the team. He really didn't know him beyond that point.

But he was one of the 341 New York City firefighters who died.

"I remember my wife waking me up one night because she thought there was a fire in our house,'' Byrne recounted. "I jumped out of bed and ran into the kid's rooms.

"After checking all the rooms upstairs, I ran downstairs and even checked out the furnace. And there was nothing. I ran outside and couldn't see anything on the street.''

Finally it dawned on him.

"It was the smoke from the Twin Towers that had blown in our direction,'' he said. "My recollection was that it was a number of days afterward; it could have been a week or two weeks.

"I'll never forget that feeling.''

Two years ago, the Badgers competed at the Iona Meet of Champions in the Bronx and Byrne took the team to Ground Zero. He's a frequent visitor whenever he's back in New York City.

"If I'm downtown, I always stop there,'' he said. "It's important. We should never forget.''

Cradle of All-Americans: Kansas, Kentucky... Wisconsin?

Quick... which schools have had the most All-Americans in college basketball history?

Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina... yep, those are no brainers. What about Duke? Sure. UCLA? Of course. Wisconsin?
Harper_Carl_1913_sm.jpg
That's right, Wisconsin. While adding Jordan Taylor (AP second-team) to the All-American section of the Wisconsin men's basketball record book, I unearthed some information that, quite simply, blew me away. Try this on for size.

Only Kansas and Kentucky have had more men's basketball All-Americans than Wisconsin.

According the NCAA Official Record Book, Wisconsin has had 17 individuals earn a total of 20 consensus first-team All-America honors. UW's 17 All-Americans ranks third among all Div. I schools and the Badgers' 20 All-America honors ranks seventh all-time.

Here are the numbers:
 
TOTAL INDIVIDUAL CONSENSUS 1ST-TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
Team                   Individuals
1. Kansas                   20
2. Kentucky                18
3. Wisconsin              17
4. North Carolina          16
    Purdue                    16
6. Duke                       15
7. Penn                       14
    UCLA                      14
9. Columbia                 13
    Notre Dame             13

TOTAL CONSENSUS 1ST-TEAM ALL-AMERICA HONORS
Team                All-Americans
1. Kansas                   27
2. North Carolina         25
3. Purdue                   24
    Penn                      24
5. Kentucky                23
6. Notre Dame             22
7. Wisconsin               20
    UCLA                     20
9. Columbia                19
10. Duke                    18

Granted, most of UW's All-Americans came in the early 1900s, but still... an All-American is an All-American. If UW ever decides to hang jerseys in the rafters, it would get pretty crowded in the Kohl Center. Here is the honor roll:

1905 - C.D. McLees, Chris Steinmetz, Sr.*
1907 - Frank Arthur
1908 - Hugh Harper, Helmer Swenholt
1909 - Helmer Swenholt
1911 - Walter Scoville
1912 - Otto Stangel*
1913 - Allen Johnson
1914 - Carl Harper, Eugene Van Gent
1915 - George Levis
1916 - William Chandler, George Levis*
1917 - Harold Olsen
1918 - William Chandler*, Eber Simpson
1941 - Gene Englund
1942 - John Kotz
2007 - Alando Tucker

* Helms Foundation National Player of the Year

Lucas at Large: Details matter for Badgers' backfield

FB_110907_Ball_Montee.jpegTwo days before the UNLV opener, UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock reminded tailback Montee Ball to take the shortest distance between two points after catching the football.

"You're going to get in this situation,'' Hammock advised Ball who had 16 catches last season, "and when you do, just run straight. Don't look to your left. Don't look to your right.''

Why was such a reminder necessary? "There were times last year,'' Hammock said, "where Montee would start looking for another defender instead of just running.''

Last Thursday night, Ball found himself in the situation that Hammock foreshadowed. Swinging out of the backfield, he caught a pass in the flat and ran 63 yards before being pulled down.

"For it to come to fruition during the game was something that we both laughed about on Sunday,'' Hammock said. "On that pass, he cut back inbounds and then got vertical on the defender.

"I told him, 'Even though you didn't score, it was still longer than any play you've had since you've been here. Keep working and the next time try to score on it.'''

Ball's 22-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was also noteworthy to Hammock because Ball was able to pull through a tackle attempt and high step into the end zone.

"That's something that he has done constantly over the course of the spring and fall camp,'' Hammock said, "and it was good to see it happen in a game situation.''

Such results are a product of daily preparation in practice, Hammock stressed.

"The one thing I've tried to express to them,'' he said of his tailbacks, "is that you're going to play like you practice. They practiced hard (last week) and we need to continue to do that every week.''

When UW coach Bret Bielema was asked Monday what went into the offense's efficiency against UNLV, highlighted by eight scores in the first eight possessions, he said, "Hopefully preparation.''

Bielema then credited his offensive coaching staff for putting it all together.

"They work well together,'' he said. "Everyone understands what their roles are. They practiced very clean during fall camp that led to some very good things you saw (in the opener).

"The good news is that I think we can be better.''

That has been Hammock's message to his runners. "Details,'' he said. "It's something we can always strive to clean up and try to get as close to perfect as possible.''

He did single out a James White run that bordered on perfection.

"He made a jump cut outside,'' he said, "and with the safety coming up he had a nice stiff arm and made the guy miss for a 22-yard run. We always talk about making that last guy miss.

"Obviously, there were some more guys out there to run him down but I just think that was something we can build up. What we do every day in practice, we should be able to do in a game.

"That's what I liked most about what I saw (from Ball and White). It's always good see the carryover of what we've been trying to work on. But there are a lot of things we can do better.''

Hammock was generally pleased with the way Ball and White caught the ball. The only exception was a low pass over the middle that Ball failed to look into his hands and dropped.

"Montee has to catch that,'' Hammock said. "That's something we stress. Look the ball all the way in before you run. If he catches that ball, he's got a chance to make something big happen.''

Gordon, Lewis get their chance
The Badgers got off to such a big lead against the Rebels that they removed their starters early in the second half; resulting in valuable playing experience for tailbacks Jeff Lewis and Melvin Gordon.

"They did some good things,'' Hammock said. "But we still have some work to do.''

Heeding Hammock's emphasis on taking care of the details is the starting point.

"If you make a certain cut in practice, chances are you're going to make the same cut in a game,'' he said. "Everything I put on that practice tape is getting them ready for game situations.''

That should be the motivation to take care of all the little things in practice, he reiterated.

"But it was good that they had the opportunity to play,'' Hammock allowed.

Bielema indicated that Lewis and Gordon would get chances on special teams. "First off, Jeff and Melvin are probably two of our faster guys on the team,'' Bielema said.

That makes them both attractive for the kickoff coverage unit. "Also Jeff Lewis has enough size that he can run down the middle of the field and be faster than anybody else,'' Bielema said.

Gordon could get reps on punt coverage, too. "I'd like to incorporate Melvin,'' he said, "just because he's got some elusiveness maybe as a punt blocker.''

Gordon could also wind up returning kickoffs.

Does Bielema have any reservations about using White on that unit?

"No, not really,'' he said. "James has been doing that (returning kicks) ever since he was in high school and he wants to do it here. I asked him, 'Is this something you want to do?' And he said, 'Yes.'

"What I've done as a head coach is make sure in situations where in the second half we're up by a certain number of points ... all of a sudden, James is off the unit.''

That's also the Bielema rule of thumb for pulling Jared Abbrederis off punt returns, Jacob Pedersen off the frontline of kick returns and Bradie Ewing off all four phases of special teams.

"We need them to have the opportunity to win the rest of our games,'' Bielema said.

The Voice: Tragedy of 9/11 brought out the best in sports

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgOn September 11, 2001, it was such a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, and there was a gentle breeze. It was the type of day that showcases the beauty of this city.

On the local sports scene, there was some concern about the Badgers football team, which had just dropped its second-straight game, losing the previous Saturday to Fresno State, 32-20.

The season began with a victory against Virginia in a game featuring a lightning delay. The following week the Badgers played well but Oregon, led by quarterback Joey Harrington, slipped past Wisconsin, 31-28.

Next up on the schedule was Western Kentucky. I remember being in my living room, completing my spotter's chart on the Hilltoppers. My wife and I had the radio on in the background. The team's 1-2 record aside, life was pretty good, and we were ready to begin our day.

Then everything changed. The usual laughter on the morning radio show stopped. One of the hosts announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Perhaps like any number of people, the magnitude of what was occurring did not completely hit home with us.

We turned on NBC's "Today" show, right about the time the second plane struck the other tower. Like everyone else, we were stunned. Suddenly, the thought of my wife going to work, or the thought of me studying Western Kentucky's roster became irrelevant.

There are certain events when it is natural to remember where you were and what you were doing. Those who are old enough remember where they were on Dec. 7, 1941. Others can recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Sept. 11, 2001 became the latest tragic date on that list.

Americans went through all the emotions, from stunned disbelief, to profound sadness, to extreme anger. After a few days, we just wanted to get our lives back to "normal," however we could define that word.

For many of us, we discovered that sports can help the healing process. For a time, the stadiums were silent. When the seasons resumed, the world of fun and games became a way to escape the pain and the fear of what had happened to our country.  

For the Badgers, their first game after 9/11 was at Penn State. When we arrived at the team hotel the evening before the game, there was a moment when I started to believe that life as I knew it was about to resume.  

In 2001, Joey Boese was a senior defensive back. His father, Leo, was a regular at the games, both home and away. Almost without fail, I would see Leo on a road trip, standing outside the team hotel, unlit cigar in hand, waiting for the team to arrive.

In State College on Sept. 21, 2001, as the buses pulled into the hotel parking lot, there was Leo and his cigar. I could not help but smile and let out a sigh of relief.  With the horrible events still so fresh in everyone's mind, seeing Mr. Boese with his stogie was a sign that it was time to move forward.

I don't know about you, but at times I am brutally guilty of sweating the small stuff. In the days after 9/11, what seemed annoying the day before no longer mattered. What mattered were the simple things, like being with friends and family.  

This is where sport can be at its best. Let's face it, going to a Badger football game is a social event. Sure, fans will cheer for their team, and there is reason to be excited about the possibilities for a terrific season, but hopefully we can all enjoy the simple things.

I arrive at Camp Randall about three hours prior to kickoff. Already the tailgate parties are going. The smell of brats on the grills, and the sea of Badger fans making their way to the stadium. To me, it is one of the best parts of a game day. People are happy to be together, and they are enjoying everything that goes into a football Saturday.  

As we approach Sept. 11, 2011, I hope everyone attending a game this weekend can appreciate all the little things that make a sporting event so special.  

So go ahead and high-five a fan you have never met. Sing "Sweet Caroline" like you never have before. Jump Around like you really mean it.     

Embrace all the simple things. Perhaps that is as good a way as any to reflect on what happened 10 years ago. 

Rankings show loaded field for Wisconsin adidas Invitational

| 2 Comments
MXC_110906_Darling_Maverick.jpg

By Cristin Fitzpatrick
UW Athletic Communications

This year's Wisconsin adidas Invitational promises to be one for the record books. The University of Wisconsin men's and women's cross country teams play host to the third-annual Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Friday, Oct. 14.

The meet will feature competition from some of the country's top teams. Both men's and women's groups will see two of the top three ranked teams in the country.

Out of the 40 teams competing, the men's section features 19 teams from U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's national top 30 preseason rankings, including No. 2 Stanford and the host Badgers at No. 3.

The 41-team women's race features 18 of the nation's top 30 teams, including No. 2 New Mexico and No. 3 Providence.

The Badger men took second in last year's competition with a final score of 75 points, led by then-junior Elliot Krause's fourth-place finish. Indiana claimed the team win in the 8-kilometer race with 43 points.

The women pulled out a 15th-place team finish among the 20 teams that competed, including six ranked in the USTFCCCA national poll. Then-junior pacesetter Caitlin Comfort finished strong for the Badgers as the lead finisher among UW runners returning for the 2011 season.

The Zimmer Championship Course looks to some steep competition, with a combined 37 of the country's top men's and women's teams prepared for the gun. That field includes defending men's meet champion Indiana (No. 8) and defending women's champion Syracuse (No. 15).

2011 Wisconsin adidas Invitational
Competing Teams Ranked by USTFCCCA - Men

2. Stanford
3. Wisconsin
4. Oregon
8. Indiana
11. Princeton
12. Northern Arizona
13. NC State
14. Syracuse
16. BYU
17. Villanova
18. Providence
21. New Mexico
22. Georgetown
23. Notre Dame
24. Texas
25. Ohio State
26. Florida
27. Minnesota
29. Arizona State

2011 Wisconsin adidas Invitational
Competing Teams Ranked by USTFCCCA - Women

2. New Mexico
3. Providence
5. Villanova
7. Stanford
8. Arizona
10. Iowa State
11. Washington
12. North Carolina
15. Syracuse
16. Oregon
18. Boston College
21. NC State
22. Princeton
22. Florida
27. Toledo
28. Iowa
29. Michigan State
30. Minnesota

Women's rowing holds first practice

| No TrackBacks
WROW_110906_Practice.jpg

Photo Gallery

The road to the 2012 NCAA Championships began Tuesday morning at 6:15 a.m. as the Wisconsin women's rowing team held its first practice of the 2011-12 season.

After a quick briefing from head coach Bebe Bryans, the team spent the next hour and a half rowing on Lake Mendota, mostly in pairs. Though conditions weren't ideal -- it was a bit chilly and fairly choppy -- the Badgers adapted to the fall-like conditions.

Starting the season off rowing in pairs -- as opposed to eights, which are easier to set -- was a challenge and a great learning experience for the rowers. As they worked on battling the waves crashing against their boat, Bryans reminded the team that "if you can row in this in a pair, you can row in anything."

While many crews across the country have the privilege of rowing on small lakes or rivers with little amounts of wind and waves, Lake Mendota can be tough on rowers. It isn't uncommon for the Badgers to travel to different corners of the lake depending on the wind direction.

Tuesday the wind was coming from the northeast, so the team practiced in University Bay, just west of the Porter Boathouse. Each boat spent time rowing a loop, competing to stay in pace with another boat. As the practice continued, the boats moved together smoother, the set was better and the synergy began to show.

We caught up with coach Bryans after practice:





Wilson picks up Big Ten Player of the Week honors

| 5 Comments
FB_110905_Wilson_Russell.jpeg

- Big Ten Players of the Week

Russell Wilson is 1-0 with the Wisconsin football team, and now the same can be said for his record when it comes to picking up weekly honors from the Big Ten Conference.

Wilson has been named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week following his debut performance with the Badgers, in which he completed 10 of 13 passes for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running for 62 yards and another score.

Those numbers added up to a season-opening 51-17 win over UNLV at Camp Randall Stadium.

The North Carolina State transfer became just the second UW quarterback to throw for 250 yards and rush for at least 50 yards in the same game -- and the first Badger signal caller to do so since 1979.

With Wilson under center, the Badgers' No. 1 offense scored on each of its eight possessions, including seven touchdowns, and racked up 444 yards in just under three quarters of action.

Wilson's 317 total yards was the best-ever mark by a Badgers QB in his debut, as were his pass efficiency (292.5) and completion percentage (76.9). His passing efficiency mark would lead the nation if he had met the NCAA's statistical minimum of 15 pass attempts.

The Badgers return to action Saturday by hosting Oregon State in a game that kicks off at 11 a.m. and can be seen live on ESPN.

ESPN picks up Badgers' matchup with Oregon State

FB_110904_Bielema_Bret_Brown_Jenn.jpeg

- ESPN College Football Schedule

For a second-consecutive week, ESPN will lead off its coverage of college football at Camp Randall Stadium.

The Wisconsin football team's matchup with Oregon State will air on ESPN's primary network at 11 a.m. (CT) Saturday, the Big Ten Conference announced Sunday. Michigan State's game with Florida Atlantic will air in the same window on ESPN2.

UW also was part of the World Wide Leader's first game of the 2011 season with its 51-17 win over UNLV on Thursday.

Currently, at least six of the Badgers' 12 regular-season games are scheduled to appear on one of ESPN's platforms. That number could grow as TV assignments continue to be announced during the season.

Lucas at Large: Supporting cast big in Wilson's primetime debut

FB_110903_Wilson_Russell.jpegThe ESPN film crew did something Thursday night that the UNLV defense couldn't do.

They stopped Russell Wilson.

Since the start of training camp, ESPN has been tracking Wilson -- and his every movement on and off the field -- for a quarterback special ("Depth Chart'') that's scheduled to air in October.

As soon as Wilson stepped outside of the locker room after the UW's 51-17 win over UNLV, he was stopped and "miked'' by the ESPN producer in charge of the project.

They exchanged pleasantries and went about their business -- all of which fell under the heading of "business as usual" for Wilson, who has handled every media situation with a calm professionalism.

Such 24/7 attention would normally be a distraction to most players.

"Most definitely, especially during training camp,'' agreed UW wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. "After practice you just want to go home and take a nap or go watch some film.

"But he (Wilson) always has people following him around and asking for interviews. It's been really impressive how he has handled himself. But I'm not really surprised.

"That's just the kind of guy he is. He can handle it. He's one impressive guy.''

Throughout the season opener, the 22-year-old Wilson took care of business on the sidelines by communicating with each of his offensive teammates; especially the skill position players.

"He'll come over and talk to you about the route depth or something like that,'' Abbrederis said. "If he sees something in the defense, he might say, 'Get ready for this play, it might be coming.'''

Because of Wilson's running ability, the UW receivers are always on alert.

"If you're running a pass route,'' Abbrederis said, "it (a pass) might be coming or he might be taking off and running. If he is, you'd better get on your guy and block him.

"But blocking is one of the things we do a lot just because of the running backs we have. It's a tradition here. Coach stresses that every day. Put two hands on your target.

"You saw that with Nick, who was on his guy for probably five seconds when Russell scored.''

That would be Nick Toon, who tied up a defensive back on the goal line during Wilson's 46-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Tight end Jacob Pedersen also got a huge block.

"Blocking is a big part of the game of football especially here at Wisconsin,'' Toon said. "We pride ourselves on being able to run the ball.

"To have receivers blocking downfield opens up opportunities for big plays. As you saw, Russell can run. He's another offensive threat and playmaker making downfield blocking even more important.''

Wilson's touchdown run was the longest of his career. What did he see as the play unfolded?

"Everybody was covered and I just wanted to get a first down,'' said Wilson, who finished with 317 yards of total offense. "I got some great blocks downfield and I just kept running.

"I just go through my progressions. I'm always trying to throw the ball first. But if something is not there, I want to make something positive out of it (the play).''

UW offensive center Peter Konz never saw Wilson leave the pocket.

"I didn't even know he was running until he was already 10 yards down the field,'' he said. "You feel like you're pass blocking for six seconds and then you have the feeling that he's gone.''

By his own admission, Wilson was not perfect. He did overthrow a couple of open receivers.

"There's always room for improvement; I always believe that especially playing the quarterback position,'' Wilson said. "There are things you can always get better at.

"We'll watch film, and correct things here and there.

"We just have to keep getting better every single week.''

One impressive guy.
FB_110901_Lewis_Jeffrey.jpgUW tailback Montee Ball snickered. After all, you don't ask someone who has lost as much weight as Ball -- over 20 pounds since the Rose Bowl -- if he's "hungry'' to start the 2011 season.

That surely qualified as a loaded question, if not a loaded baked potato (which Ball regularly feasted on during his dieting; a potato loaded, by the way, with cottage cheese).

"Very hungry,'' Ball responded anyway.

Rightly so. The 210-pound Ball is anxious to see if his big loss will turn into big gains Thursday night against UNLV at Camp Randall Stadium.

"I really want to see how I feel at this weight in a game,'' he said. "We had a couple of scrimmages, but I didn't get many reps. I'm pretty confident about it. We'll see how it goes.''

There's obviously less of him to see than last season when he rushed for 996 yards and 18 touchdowns. Ball finished strong by collecting over 100 yards in each of the final five games.

"Man, Montee looks totally different,'' said UW tailback Jeff Lewis. "He looks like one of those LA Weight Loss commercials. You can see in his face that he has lost all that weight.

"You can also see that by the way he plays. He's a lot faster and more powerful. People are going to be surprised and they will love it -- the new Montee.''

UW tailback James White, the Big Ten's reigning Freshman of the Year, also looks different physically. "James has gotten a lot faster and stronger,'' Lewis observed.

Only San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore had a higher rushing average per game among freshmen running backs last season than White (87.7).

The Badgers have a proven one-two punch in Ball and White. Befitting their stature, they've received plenty of media attention; only quarterback Russell Wilson has been able to overshadow them.

Last season, Ball and White shared interview requests and carries with John Clay. With his departure, freshman Melvin Gordon has been drawing considerable interest in training camp.

Rightly so, Lewis said. "Melvin keeps everyone on their toes,'' he added.  "I like when he comes out in practice and pushes me. He keeps pushing me to get better every day.''

Whereas Gordon has been on everyone's radar screen, Lewis is still the Stealth in this rotation.

"A lot of people don't know about me,'' said Lewis, a redshirt freshman from Brookfield Central (Joe Thomas' old high school proving grounds). "I don't mind being that X-factor.''

So far, Lewis has shown that he has more speed than luck. He's among the fastest players on the team -- if not the fastest -- when healthy. Last spring he played with a cast to protect a busted thumb.

As training camp was winding down, Lewis collided with a DB and went down hard in the middle of the field. He came up holding his left wrist; the same wrist that he had broken three years ago.

"At the time, I really didn't know how serious it was,'' he said. "My whole arm locked up and when the trainers came out I started praying and hoping that everything would be all right.''

UW coach Bret Bielema found Lewis sitting outside of his office last week and when he approached him, Lewis pulled off the cast and flexed his hand to prove that he was ready to go.

That was prior to getting medical clearance. Eventually, he did get the good news. There was no fracture. "Oh, man, it was like heaven because I thought for sure I would need surgery,'' Lewis said.

How can Lewis complement Ball and White?

"I can bring that change of speed,'' Lewis said.

The Badgers would like to utilize their running backs as receivers. Lewis feels pretty good about that dimension in his game, too.

"Especially now that I've got two free hands,'' he said of being cast-free.

Does he see himself as an underdog in the shadows of Ball, White and Gordon?

"A little bit,'' he said. "But everybody has something to prove.''

A couple of days ago, Lewis had a dream.

"I dreamed about coming out of the tunnel (at Camp Randall),'' he said excitedly, "and I dreamed about running plays in the game (against UNLV). Man, I can't wait.

In your game program, Jeff Lewis is No. 22, the Stealth.
ON WISCONSIN