When 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?
"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.'''
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.''
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.''
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.''
Two 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.