After three seasons as a backup, which included a pair of position switches, and playing on special teams, LB Conor O'Neill earned the opportunity to start this season as a senior. He hasn't disappointed and ranks fourth on the Badgers in tackles (39) and is tied for fourth in both tackles for loss (4.5) and sacks (2.0). He has helped the Wisconsin defense to a No. 6 national ranking, allowing only 278.5 yards per game, including only 99.1 yards per game on the ground, which ranks No. 7 in the country. O'Neill and his 25 fellow seniors will play their final game at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
What clicked for you during spring practice that put you in a position to start?
"I realized that time was running out for me very quickly. To have a new coaching staff and have a new scheme, I felt it was the best time for me to take advantage of the opportunity in front of me as a senior and get some playing time. I also knew that I had to work hard to make it a reality. The new 3-4 scheme fits my playing style more than the previous 4-3 did. I feel like I am able to be a bit more free (in the defense) and able to run to the ball more."
What has it meant to you to get the chance to start as a senior?
"As much as I would have liked to play as an underclassmen, to finish the way I have as a senior has been a dream come true. To earn the starting job, to be able to play as much as I have, to be a part of this class and be a part of something special like our defense has been this season, it means a lot to me."
What has it been like to be a part of the defense's success this season?
"It has been awesome. People doubted us coming in to fall camp, and to see our guys grow on the back end and in the front seven, and to see how we've bonded to become a dominant defense, has been truly unbelievable."
This senior class has been one of the most successful in school history, what has it meant to you to be a part of that?
"We are a bunch of guys that, four or five years ago, came in and knew that we had to work. That was shown to us by the seniors when we got here and I hope that, when we leave, that is what we will instill in the younger guys -- that this is a program where you have to work every single day. That shows in the results that we have had on the field. To be a part of all of these guys and be a part of something special has meant a lot."
What type of relationships has this senior class developed?
"Five years ago we all came in and had the goal to be a great class and I think that we have done that. All of us can say that we've built lifelong relationships among all of us. We know that five or 10 years down the road, when we have reunions and stuff, and even in the month-to-month and week-to-week, we'll keep in touch with each other. I definitely feel like we've built friendships for a lifetime."
What is the favorite memory from your Badgers career?
"This year and just having the opportunity to start. We've also had the Rose Bowls, the Big Ten championships and taking down a No. 1 (Ohio State) team. Even just the highs and lows of the journey has made for an awesome ride. But, to end it like this, has been awesome. It has been unbelievable."
What will you miss most about playing at Wisconsin?
"Just being around the guys. This is an awesome team with the relationships, the camaraderie and the brotherly love that we have for each other. I feel like we have guys that will go to war for each other and take bullets for each other, just because of all of the things that we have been through. We also have the greatest fans in the world, there is no doubt about that. I am definitely going to miss that and am just going to miss being around the guys a lot."
- Ryan Evans