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The dawning of that first "Game Week'' is not only a starting point, but a finish line; whereby college football players are exiting the grind of training camp and entering a new season with the anticipation of basking in the sunlight that washes over every 0-0 team before that first kickoff.
It is no different for Wisconsin's starting safeties, Shelton Johnson and Dez Southward, who have their own "likes'' and "dislikes'' from three weeks of practices -- some two-a-days, some under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium -- all geared to get them ready for potentially a 14-game season.
"I like being able to focus on just football,'' said Johnson, a fifth-year senior from Carrollton, Texas. "During training camp, it's football all day -- this is unlike any other time of the year when you have academics and outside responsibilities -- and you have a good opportunity to get better every day.''
Citing the team camaraderie that has been building since the first practice on Aug. 6, Southward said, "It's a ton of time to get to know the guys around you. You learn the most about these people in training camp because you really get to focus just on football; really that's all there is here.''
That bonding process can lead to a special experience, according to Southward, a junior from Sunrise, Fla. It's special, he said, because it's shared with the "people who are with you on game day'' and the "guys you're going to war with.'' That would be the UW coaches and his teammates.
So what's there not to like about training camp?
"I dislike how my body feels,'' Johnson said. "It's a grind out here.''
"We all love to play football,'' said Southward, "but there's a certain point where your body ...''
He groaned out loud. How would he translate the body language?
"It's like I need a break,'' he said.
That aside, Southward and Johnson have each tried to meet certain objectives in August.
"I came into camp to gain more confidence,'' said Southward, who has only three career starts. "I know what I can do; everybody knows what I can do. But I have to do it more consistently. I feel like I've been able to do that. Man, I'm light years where I was, and I'm excited about where I can get to.''
Southward didn't play organized football until his senior year of high school.
So his growing pains have been more pronounced than others.
"I still have things that I definitely have to get better at,'' he said.
Since one of his starting opportunities came in the Rose Bowl -- Johnson made room for him by shifting to nickel back -- what was the biggest lesson that Southward learned from last season?
"I remember a lot of mental breakdowns -- a lot of what-ifs, a lot of could've, would've, should've (against Oregon),'' he conceded. "From my point of view, I learned to keep grinding. I know that I've said training camp can be tough because it's just such a grind. But that's different.
"As far as grinding during a season, it's putting that last week behind you and putting everything into the week ahead. From that Tuesday when you get the game plan all the way through Friday, you have to learn as much as you can and truly go out and apply it on Saturdays.''
Johnson, the fourth-leading tackler and a tri-leader in interceptions with four last season, came into training camp with a different level of confidence than Southward. "But honestly I want to be more confident in my abilities,'' he said, "in what the coaches say is 'pulling the trigger' a bit more often.''
Pulling the trigger? "Taking a shot,'' Johnson explained. "I know last year when I did that -- when I pulled the trigger -- I was able to make some plays. What I learned was that the little things matter. The games at Michigan State and Ohio State really emphasized how it's a game of inches.''
Johnson and Southward's partnership at safety is just beginning to grow.
Their friendship as teammates as been maturing for years.
"Our relationship is good,'' Johnson said. "He was best friends with my roommate (former UW cornerback Antonio Fenelus). And since they were locked at the hip, he was always at the house.''
"From competing against him to now being across from him (in the deep secondary),'' Southward said, "it's been a blast and there's nobody in the country that I would rather go to war with.''
Regarding the graduation loss of Fenelus, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, Southward said, "We miss him already. He was in many ways the heart and soul of the DB group. He really brought us together. He made us laugh. He showed us how to work. He was a great example.''
Who fills that void? "We're filling that void right now collectively,'' Southward said. "When you see someone who's down, who's maybe not as excited as he was the day before, you try to pump him up a little bit. We've kind of done that as group -- me, Devin, Cro and Shelton.''
Devin is Devin Smith, who's returning from an injury redshirt.
Cro is Marcus Cromartie, who started 13 games at cornerback last season.
Along with Johnson, Smith and Cromartie are seniors.
"I guess I'm the young man,'' said Southward. Laughing, he added, "I still feel old.''
Johnson and Southward were on the same page when it came to describing the impact that first-year secondary coach Ben Strickland has had on their development during this training camp.
Strickland was one of the team captains of the 2007 UW team.
"Coach Strick gives us a different kind of perspective on the coaching side of things,'' Johnson said. "Typically during camp, you get the impression that the coaches really don't know what you're going through. But Coach Strick has been through all of this before as a player.''
Said Southward, "He's had a huge impact. He's one of the guys who has really helped me be more consistent. As soon as he got the job, he was straight-up with me. He told me, 'We believe in you, we understand you have a lot of talent, but we want to turn this talent into something special.'''
That's what Southward was yearning to hear.
"He (has been there every step of the way with me,'' he said. "Anytime I struggle or I may get down on myself, he's right there to pick me up with a word of encouragement. It's great to have people like that in your corner.''
Johnson could say the same thing after being elected as one of six UW team captains.
"Having your teammates, the people that you're around every day, show their respect back to you is a real honor,'' Johnson said. "Especially coming from the position I was in my freshman year. I really didn't know if I was going to be here or not.''
Feeling like he had slipped through the cracks, Johnson considered leaving the program.
"It goes through everyone's mind as you start slipping down that depth chart,'' Johnson said. "Even my roommate (Fenelus) thought about leaving for a second. Everybody reaches that breaking point where either you can pack up and move on, or you can get it together.''
He chose the latter, and he's glad that he did.
Former Wisconsin hockey defenseman Davis Drewiske resisted the temptation to read the handwriting on the wall Sunday; especially since it pertained to the "handwriting'' on the Cup, the Stanley Cup, which was scheduled for a public showing Monday in Drewiske's hometown of Hudson.
As a member of the National Hockey League champions, the Los Angeles Kings, the 27-year-old Drewiske was looking forward to having the Stanley Cup in his possession even though he was unsure if his name was going to be actually engraved on the Cup along with the names of his teammates.
That's because Drewiske appeared in only nine games for the Kings. By NHL rule, he needed to appear in either 41 regular season games or dress for at least one game in the finals against the New Jersey Devils to meet the qualifying standards for getting his name on the Cup, and he did neither.
But the league has been known to make some exceptions.
Drewiske will have to wait until Monday to find out officially.
The Cup won't be in his hands until then. (On Sunday, he said, it was somewhere in Ontario.)
All things considered, he was relatively confident that he could be a name-dropper, so to speak.
"I don't have confirmation on that yet, but I think I do (have his name on the Cup), I'm just not sure,'' Drewiske said. "I did have confirmation on the spelling of my name from someone within the team. But I don't want to get too excited until I know for sure.
"It's just an honor to have the Stanley Cup for a day and I want to share that with some people who have helped me along the way; family especially. I'm just excited for that. I would have liked to have played more and been a bigger part of everything. Sometimes things work out in funny ways.''
Drewiske was the seventh defenseman on a Kings team that regularly played six.
"I didn't play very much because we basically had no injuries the entire year which was the good news for our team and maybe not such a good thing for me personally,'' said Drewiske who was stacked behind Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene in the blue line rotation.
"The guys (defensemen) played really well and stayed healthy. I played well when I got to play and it was my job to stay ready in case anyone got hurt, work hard and take warm-ups every night. It was not an easy thing to do, but I'll be better for it in the long running.
"I know I can play; I've played very well at times for the organization. I've tried to take it one day at a time. I'll be ready for the opportunity, whether that opportunity is going to come with Los Angeles or someone else. We'll see. I'm trying to stay confident in getting ready for next year.''
After the Kings, an improbable No. 8 seed, ended a 45-year drought by winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup, Drewiske, wearing his No. 44 jersey, celebrated on the ice following Game 6. Along with everyone else, he got a chance to hoist the Cup and take part in one of the great rituals in sports.
"I was really excited for my teammates,'' said Drewiske, who was signed by the Kings as an undrafted free agent after his senior year in 2008. "We have great guys in that locker room who have been really good to me. The best part for me was seeing the genuine excitement from everybody.''
Drewiske is no stranger to such on-ice celebrations. In 2006, he celebrated with his Wisconsin teammates after winning the NCCA championship. Three late-round draft picks from that team have since overcome the odds and made their mark as pros: Brian Elliott, Adam Burish and Joe Pavelski.
Asked when he first began having visions of playing someday in the NHL - maybe even winning the Cup - Drewiske said, "When I was in college, I was more worried about being able to play for the Badgers than thinking too far ahead. During my junior year, I thought I might have a chance.
"I had a lot of good coaching along the way. I just tried to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities that I got. My dad went to grad school at UW, and that's where I was born, so it was definitely a dream-come-true for me to play college hockey for the Badgers.''
His mom and dad, Karen and Dave Drewiske, will be in the Stanley Cup loop Monday. The plan was to pick up the Cup at the airport and make a few stops in Minneapolis - where Davis and his wife live - before making the trip to Hudson. It will be on display at the Civic Center that evening.
"There might be a few beverages in the Cup throughout the day,'' Davis Drewiske said.
There may even be a toast or two to the Hudson Hockey Association which is one of the more prominent youth organizations in the state. "My parents were a big part of that when I was growing up,'' Drewiske said. "Hockey is a big part of the culture in Hudson. It's a special community.''
That's why he was anxious to see how the Stanley Cup would be received Monday.
"Obviously, the Cup, itself, is a cool thing; there's a lot of history there,'' Drewiske said. "I'm just as excited or more excited to see all those people in Hudson and be able to say thanks in a small way for everything they've done for me and my family.''
As of Sunday, though, there was still that uncertainty on whether his name will be engraved on the Stanley Cup. What will be the first thing that he does when the Cup arrives? "I don't know if it will be the first thing,'' he said, "but I'm sure I'll take a peek not too long after we get it.''
He's hoping for the best; a priceless moment. "Your name is there forever on the Stanley Cup,'' he said. "It would be an honor to be on there with all the guys who have been honored before.''
By his own admission, Jack Russell sank to a new personal depth on the same day that Wisconsin's first fall depth chart was released and Russell was listed on the top line as the Badgers' No. 1 placekicker, ahead of Kyle French. By contrast, French began the day on a "low'' and finished on a "high.''
None of it was a coincidence.
After Russell made only 2-of-4 field goal attempts at the end of last Monday's practice, he admitted, "I didn't necessarily feel pressure (to validate being No. 1 on the depth chart) but I felt that I needed to be more focused and that caused me to make a couple of mistakes.''
After French went a perfect 4-for-4 in the same drill, he said, "When I saw that I was listed as the No. 2 field goal kicker -- actually Coach (Charlie) Partridge told me that morning -- it kind of gave me a bump. But the other thing that it did was it kind of relaxed me.''
Wisconsin natives Russell, a freshman walk-on from Waunakee, and French, a redshirt sophomore from Menomonee Falls, have been volleying back and forth throughout camp in a spirited, but friendly, competition punctuated by good days and inconsistent ones -- to the learning benefit of each kicker.
"Jack and I love competing,'' French said.
"I've tried to learn something out of every drill,'' Russell added.
The Badgers are looking to replace Philip Welch, who finished with the second-highest career field goal percentage (.776) in school history behind Matt Davenport (.868); the second-most field goals made (59) behind Todd Gregoire (65); and the second-most career points (384) behind Ron Dayne (426).
While Welch was sidelined with an injury at the start of the 2011 season, French got some valuable game experience and converted on 3-of-5 field goals and 26-of-27 extra points. (Welch returned for Big Ten play and made 5-of-6 overall, including a season-long 52-yarder against Purdue.)
It was generally assumed that French would replace Welch and handle all the placements this season while Russell would be the kickoff specialist; an assignment that was split between Welch and Alec Lerner last year. At least that was the assumption going into the training camp.
When the depth chart came out, the roles were reversed.
"The first week I felt very confident and I was kicking well,'' French said. "But once I ended up having a 2-for-4 day, I just got kind of overwhelmed. Once you brought the adrenaline-type of situations into it, I kind of -- not really freaked out -- but my body started doing things that it didn't normally do.''
French noted that he got positive reinforcement from UW assistant coach Charlie Partridge, who's in charge of the field goal operation. "Working with Coach Partridge,'' he said, "we worked on 'calming yourself down and keeping your composure' before each kick and that's helped a lot.''
Although he was disappointed last Monday to be listed No. 2 on the depth chart, French hinted that it served as the equivalent of a wake-up call. "It was a big motivating day for me,'' he said, stressing, "This is your time to prove to them (the coaches) and yourself that you belong in the No. 1 spot.''
French had nothing but praise for Russell's competitiveness."Throughout the summer, I definitely thought he was much better at kickoffs than field goals,'' French said. "Field-goal wise, he surprised me a lot. When he came out here (to training camp), he just had that confidence.''
Russell was definitely riding a wave of momentum. In mid-July, he kicked a 49-yard field goal in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star Game for divisions 1-3 in Oshkosh. In his final prep game, he kicked a 48-yarder as Waunakee won its third straight WIAA Division 2 state championship.
"My expectation was to just compete,'' said Russell, a preferred walk-on. "I didn't come in necessarily with any expectations that I was going to start (off as the No. 1 placekicker). I knew that I had to come out and compete and give it my best and go from there.
"I try not to put pressure on myself. But I know my family and friends -- Waunakee is close (to Madison) -- are really keeping tab on the Badgers. And after the depth chart came out, I got a lot of texts, calls and comments on Facebook that made me feel really good.''
One of those calls was from former UW placekicker Taylor Mehlhaff, who has been serving as a mentor to Russell. Only Gregoire and Welch kicked more career field goals than Mehlhaff (50), a two-time first-team All-Big Ten pick and a sixth-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints in 2008.
Mehlhaff, who has been conducting camps and tutoring kickers around the country, recently joined the University of Tennessee coaching staff as an administrative intern for special teams.
"I actually consider him family with as much as he's taught me,'' Russell said of Mehlhaff. "I talked to him for about a half-hour Monday. He congratulated me and told me, 'Just because that's what it is (No. 1) on the depth chart right now, it doesn't mean that I can take any breaks.'''
Shortly after Russell made the conversion from soccer to football -- a transition that has only been three years in the making -- he was introduced to Mehlhaff at a kicking camp on the UW campus. "He asked if he could work with me privately,'' Russell said, "and it has taken off from there.''
There's one piece of advice that has stuck with him, too. "Keep your eyes back, not necessarily your head, when kicking,'' he said. "You want to try and watch your foot and make contact with the ball. Even if you have a bad swing, if you're good with your eyes, you'll make most of your kicks.''
French also has a mentor in Jamie Kohl, a former Iowa State kicker who's the director of the Kohl kicking, punting and snapping camps, one of which is based out of Waukesha. "I worked a lot with him,'' French said, "and any time I have questions, he's very good about responding back.''
Russell and French subscribe to the same motivational author, Tim Gallwey, who has written a series of books that focus on mind-over- matter training methods related to "The Inner Game.''
French has read "The Inner Game of Golf.''
"I believe golf and kicking are very similar; no matter where you are, it's always the same stroke, obviously except when you're chipping,'' French said. "The book has allowed me to kind of clear the mechanism in pressure situations. I've applied a lot that I've learned from the book to my kicking game.''
Russell is currently reading "The Inner Game of Tennis.''
"Taylor (Mehlhaff) was the first one to introduce me to the book,'' he said. "He has been a big proponent of the mental side of the game and I finally got around to reading the book this summer. Last Monday, I just picked up where I last left off, and where I picked up was exactly what I needed (to read).''
This was after missing a couple of field goals at the end of Monday's practice.
"I needed to relax my mind,'' Russell said, "and not be too focused on kicking.''
Between now and the Sept. 1 opener, Russell and French will each be working on writing the next chapter to their competition, which could very well continue throughout the 2012 season, barring any more unexpected plot twists.
At about the same time Tuesday that Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland was sitting in a team meeting and learning that he had been named one of six captains for the 2012 season, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit was announcing the winners of his 12th-annual "Herbie Awards."
Borland won in the category for "Best Instincts'' beating out Kansas State's Arthur Brown, USC's Dion Bailey, Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, and Mississippi State's Cameron Lawrence.
After Wednesday's practice, Borland was quick to point out that the captaincy outweighed just about everything else, including the "Herbie.''
"Not even close,'' Borland said. "No disrespect to Kirk Herbstreit, but it's not even close. He was just looking out for a fellow Daytonian. He's from the next town over.''
Herbstreit is from Centerville, Ohio, while Borland is from Kettering.
Both are Dayton suburbs, and they're about two miles apart.
Another UW player, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, was also nominated for a "Herbie'' in the category of "Best Backyard Player.'' The award went to Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller.
Herbstreit, who turned 53 last Sunday, selected UW tailback Montee Ball as his Player of the Year in the Big Ten. That, too, was trumped by a far greater honor: Ball was elected a Badger captain.
"That's very important, very important,'' Ball said. "It shows how much respect the team has for you, and it's an honor and a blessing that they nominated me. I'm not going to let them down.''
While deliberating over whether he should enter the NFL draft or return for his senior year, Ball reminded himself that "it was always a dream of mine to be a captain of a Division I program.''
But did he wonder how his off-the-field incidents might now factor into the voting for captain?
"It was in the back of my mind,'' he said. "But I shouldn't have thought that way because of the team we have. They're a bunch of great guys and they've been behind me 100 percent the whole time.''
Borland confirmed as much. "I thought Montee would be a captain,'' he said. "And he deserves it by the way he has worked and the way he conducts himself. He's one of our leaders.''
Joining Ball and Borland as captains are offensive tackle Rick Wagner, center Travis Frederick, linebacker Mike Taylor and safety Shelton Johnson. Borland and Frederick are juniors.
"I voted for Travis and myself during the team vote,'' Borland said. "I felt we were two good guys for the job regardless of our age.
"It's an honor (to be named captain). It's not something that we take lightly here and I certainly don't, either. So it means a lot to me.''
Borland was a captain of his Archbishop Alter High School team as a senior.
"The situation is pretty similar,'' he said. "We've got a lot of guys this year who aren't captains but who are good leaders. It was the same way in high school.
"There are differences (in all six captains). But we all work hard and we treat each other with respect -- from Montee Ball, a Heisman candidate, to the last guy on the roster.''
Borland agreed that Taylor and Wagner are more reticent than the others.
"They're both smart with their words,'' he said. "They're not chatterboxes. When they speak up, it's because something is really important and they say it with conviction. The guys believe in them.
"We all lead by example. There's not a very vocal guy in the group. Montee's probably the most outspoken. Everybody has just worked hard their whole careers; we try to do all the right things.''
Ball was raised in Wentzville, Mo., and was a three-year captain at Timberland High School.
"As a captain, everyone is looking to you when adversity strikes on the field,'' Ball said. "And, of course, adversity is going to strike this season just like it did last season and the season before.
"When it does, I'm going to make sure I show up and be a playmaker.''
Noting the diversity in personalities of the Badgers' captains, Ball said, "We all bring something different to the table. What we have in common is that we show up every day and you know what to expect from us.''
Nobody is shy about expressing their opinion, either.
During Wednesday's practice, for instance, the Badgers were sporting the all-red helmets that they will be wearing for the Big Ten opener at Nebraska. Ball liked them, Borland didn't.
"I actually do like them; they fit comfortably,'' Ball said. "It changes it up a little bit.''
When Borland was asked about the helmets, he smiled and said, "Off the record?''
Shrugging his shoulders, he stressed, "I really don't care. I'd play in a purple helmet.''
Later, he explained, "I'm kind of a traditionalist. I like our jerseys and our helmets the way they are. But it's all good. It's a nice changeup and I think the fans will like them.''
Danny O'Brien didn't bring a written resume to his job interview, a 16-practice Q&A on the X's and O's. But his play on the field, even his presence in the huddle, spoke to his 17 starts at Maryland. That game experience shaped him and helped him earn the job, the quarterback job at Wisconsin.
There were other factors, too, not the least of which were O'Brien's "field awareness'' and ''ball security'' the last two weeks. That was the evaluation of tailback Montee Ball, who guesstimated that O'Brien "threw about 350 passes with just two interceptions in all those practices, and that's amazing.''
Once it became official that O'Brien had beaten out Curt Phillips and Joel Stave for the starting assignment in the UW's season opener, Ball said, "I've seen a side in him today (Monday) that I hadn't seen before. His confidence level has shot up and he's taking more of a leadership role.''
Left guard Ryan Groy saw some of those things in O'Brien's make-up from the very beginning, which extended all the way back to O'Brien's recruiting trip to Madison in late March. "He knew what he was talking about when we talked football,'' recalled Groy, one of his campus hosts.
On the field, Groy said that O'Brien let his actions do the talking and they also spoke loudly to those 17 starts. "I saw a player who had experience,'' Groy observed. "I could tell he wasn't worried in the pocket, he wasn't skittish. He knew his looks and where he was going to go (with the ball).''
Groy added that the competition with Phillips and Stave may have brought out the best in O'Brien. "Competition helps the whole team regardless of what position it is,'' he suggested. "A couple of other places told Danny that he'd come in and start right away.
"Here, they told him, 'You're going to have to fight for the spot.' He knew that coming in. He even asked me what I thought about the other quarterbacks. I told him the same thing, 'It's going to be a fight.' Now that he's got the spot, I think he's going to bring a little more leadership to the position.''
There are obvious benefits to naming a starter. Besides the receivers who can develop their timing, Groy said, "We can all start jelling together and start getting use to each other. It's different having different quarterbacks in the huddle all the time; different cadences, different ways they say it.''
O'Brien, who has two years of eligibility, was saying the same thing after Monday's practice.
"It's nice, honestly, getting all the No. 1 reps,'' he admitted. " You can get more and more comfortable, not only with the game plan, but with the guys. Every day the chemistry is going to get better and better. It's something I'm used to -- preparing as a starter -- you can't get too good at that.''
Don't expect him to change anything about the way he conducts his business.
"You have to be the same guy every day if you're a quarterback,'' said O'Brien, a Minneapolis native. "You don't want to win the job and, then, all of a sudden, be a different guy in the huddle. I'm the same guy from Day One until now in terms of how I lead, and everything like that.''
Acknowledging that Phillips and Stave pushed him daily in practice, O'Brien said, "I don't think you can take that for granted. You're heading down the wrong road, if you think, 'I'm going to be given the spot.' It's something that me and Coach B (Bret Bielema) talked about before I committed here.
"He told me, 'You're going to have to work for it' and I came in with that mentality, and I'm going to continue with that same mentality. You never want to take things for granted in football.''
Asked how Phillips and Stave have handled the situation since he was appointed the starter, O'Brien said, "Anyone who didn't win (the competition) would be disappointed. But they're great guys and they congratulated me and I said, 'Let's keep working' because you still want to push each other.''
At Maryland, he was named the starting quarterback the fourth game of his redshirt freshman season and he went on to be honored as the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year. O'Brien went into 2011 as the Terps' starter, lost his job, regained his job, and then broke his arm, ending his season in mid-November.
"I've been in quarterback competitions since my true freshman year, whether it was for the third string spot, the back-up spot, or the starting spot,'' he said. "In terms of pressure, I might not have felt it as much (here) because this is something I'm very used to.
"The great thing about being here now is that it's clean slate. I've been through a lot -- really high and really low at Maryland -- so being here with a new set of guys is really special. That's the way it feels but we have to go out and keep earning it now.''
In the end, how much weight did O'Brien's previous experience in a BCS program carry in the competition with Phillips and Stave? "I think with 17 starts, you kind of get a vibe for how real game situations go and all that kind of thing,'' O'Brien said. "It's something you can't get too good at again.''
Before tweeting his choice, Bielema called O'Brien into his office Sunday and broke the news. "I thanked him for the opportunity,'' O'Brien said, "and I told him that I wasn't going to let him down.''
One moment, Wisconsin wide receiver Jordan Fredrick was sprinting down field in a "combative'' -- a special teams drill pitting a kickoff cover man versus a retreating blocker.
The next moment, Fredrick's heart was racing.
"I was thinking the worst -- a broken leg,'' he said.
You can understand his angst during last Wednesday night's practice at Camp Randall Stadium; especially since Fredrick spent last fall and spring rehabbing after shoulder surgery. Now, he was contemplating another worst case scenario following his collision with fellow wideout Chase Hammond.
"It was a scare,'' said Fredrick, a redshirt freshman from Madison Memorial High School. "I had a guy in high school who had the same thing happen to him in the same area (calf) -- it happened in a summer practice and it was pretty bad -- and it went through my mind.''
Fredrick was helped to the training room. "It was pretty painful,'' he said. "They wanted to give me X-rays because they weren't sure if it was broken or not. I was nervous. With the surgery last year you don't want to miss another year and you're always nervous about having that happen again.''
The X-rays were negative, and Fredrick didn't waste any time getting back on the practice field the very next day; bruised calf and all. There was an urgency to do so; and not only because he didn't want to lose any precious ground in his quest to secure a spot in the rotation at wide receiver.
"I didn't want to be that injury-prone guy that's sitting out practices and missing games throughout my career,'' Fredrick explained. "I was done with that during my redshirt year. So I wanted to come back right away. It (his left calf) was a little tender, but nothing to slow me down.''
The 2011 season had to seem like it was in slow motion to Fredrick, particularly after he got off to such a fast start during the first week of training camp. UW coach Bret Bielema was so encouraged by his early showing that he singled out Fredrick as a potential contributor as a true freshman.
"I didn't even know playing was an option that first year,'' admitted Fredrick, an all-state receiver and all-city linebacker as a senior at Memorial. "I just came in trying to play my game and hopefully it would go well for me. And it ended up going pretty well in the beginning.''
Not unexpectedly, he wound up hitting a wall, like most freshmen. "That last week of camp was pretty rough on me -- just mentally,'' said Fredrick, who also missed some practice time because of a sinus infection. "I wasn't mature enough to handle it all.''
The Badgers decided to redshirt Fredrick, and he went to work on the scout team simulating opposing receivers for the No. 1 defense. But his effectiveness was limited because of shoulder pain. In mid-October, he had surgery to repair two tears in his labrum, one of which may have existed for years.
Looking back on his freshman season, Fredrick said, "It was a perfect experience for me; almost getting a shot to play and it not working out in the end; the decision to redshirt; the time I got on the scout team; and then that surgery. I got pretty much every perspective there is.''
In meetings, Fredrick became a good listener, and observer. "I was watching a lot of film, and doing a lot of cut-ups with the receivers who were playing that week,'' he said.
But there was also a negative to his inactivity which carried through spring practice. "You don't ever want to be sidelined ever again after that,'' he said. "So there's a lot more drive since then.''
Since he had never been injured to this extent, Fredrick relied on UW trainer Mike Moll and others to guide him through the more challenging stages of rehab. The support group included his girlfriend and his mom and dad, Andree and Craig, a former UW tight end in the early '80s.
"I got back faster,'' Jordan Fredrick said, "and almost stronger than ever.''
At Memorial, he possessed multiple strengths as a receiver, linebacker and defensive back. During his prep career, he had 113 catches for 1,216 yards and 15 TDs plus 163 tackles and 14 interceptions.
"My real passion was DB,'' said Fredrick, the Big 8 Conference Defensive Back of the Year as a junior. "Obviously, though, I'm not a college-level DB with quickness and all that stuff. But in high school I loved sitting back there and going up for balls and competing with wideouts.''
In making the jump to the collegiate level, Fredrick was given the option of playing on offense or defense. His response was swift and from the heart. "I always loved wideout,'' he said.
But there has been an adjustment period; which is still ongoing for UW's young receivers.
"It takes a lot more effort here (Wisconsin),'' he said. "You have to run all the time. In high school, to be honest, maybe if it was a run play, you'd take some off -- because a lot of high school players go both ways (offense and defense).
"At wideout here, you can't slow down at all. The game is obviously a lot faster and the DBs are a lot quicker, so you have to go 100 percent every play, all the time. If you give that effort, you will keep getting better every day, and you will get better in every aspect.''
When his players are on the field, first-year UW receivers coach Zach Azzanni is constantly reminding them to be violent. "That's always being sudden, always being violent with your hands and body movement,'' Fredrick said. "Everything you do in this game has to be violent, sudden.''
CTT is something else that has become ingrained: Catch, Tuck, Turn.
"A lot of guys want to catch, turn and tuck,'' Fredrick said. "When we watch on film, that's where we get a lot of our drops, myself included. Before you get to the tuck, you want to turn up field. It happens all the time.''
Azzanni's teaching points and high energy drills have clearly won over Fredrick. "I love it for sure,'' he said. "He doesn't let you slow down, which is great. His expectations are high.''
So are Fredrick's -- especially since that starting job opposite Jared Abbrederis is still open.
"I'm just trying to take advantage of that opportunity right now,'' he said.
In January, Kyle Costigan and Robert Burge each found themselves in Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema's office at different times for different reasons.
Costigan was summoned there to talk about moving from defensive tackle to offensive guard.
Burge went there to quit the team. He had grown tired of playing football.
"I really didn't want to do it anymore,'' said Burge, a fifth-year senior from Holmen, Wis.
"He told me to give it a couple of days,'' he said.
How difficult was it for him to even broach the topic of quitting with Bielema?
"It was on some levels,'' he said. "On some levels, it wasn't. I had already made up my mind.''
Less than 48 hours later, Burge had a change of heart.
"Something just clicked,'' he said. "I wanted to do it again within that couple of days grace period that he gave me. It just clicked back on for me, so I decided to come back.''
Burge is most grateful today that didn't leave the team seven months ago. Costigan is grateful, too, for the opportunity to compete for a starting assignment at right guard ... with Burge, no less.
"In January, when Coach B called me up to his office,'' Costigan remembered, "it was not like he forced me (to make the switch) or anything. He asked if it would be something that would interest me.''
Why not? Costigan had been recruited out of Muskego High School to play on the offensive line.
That's where his UW career started as a freshman redshirt during the 2010 season. In early September, he was even named the offensive scout team player of the week for the UNLV game.
But the Badgers were thin at defensive tackle, so Costigan moved to that side of the ball. In late November, he was honored as the defensive scout team player of the week for the Michigan game.
A year ago, Costigan was in the defensive tackle rotation and appeared in three games -- he had two tackles against Northern Illinois -- before suffering a foot injury that ended his season in September.
So what sold him on making the switch back to offense last January?
"Coach said it would help the team,'' he recalled. "Obviously, I said, 'Yes' to helping the team.''
Costigan and Burge have been engaged in one of the more competitive position battles in training camp. There has been an ebb and flow on who takes the most reps with the No. 1 offense.
On most days, it has been Burge. On Friday, it was Costigan.
Factoring into the guard competition has been Burge's versatility to play tackle. Thus, he offers depth chart value and insurance as a backup to starting right tackle Rob Havenstein.
"No matter what happens, we're making each other better,'' Costigan said. "Even though we're competing, he's still really friendly and helpful when I mess up with the mental aspect of the game.
"He has a positive attitude about everything.''
After Tuesday's practice, Burge was asked about his walk-on status.
"It's been pretty tough on my family taking out loans and I know I have a bunch of (student) loans,'' he said. "It would be nice to get a scholarship, but whatever comes is whatever comes.
"I have to live with it. I'm not expecting anything.''
That same night, Bielema announced to the team that Burge was going on scholarship.
"I didn't believe it at first, 'Did he just call my name?''' Burge recounted. "I started smiling and I almost teared up, almost, I came that close. It was awesome. I really didn't expect it.''
Since the start of camp, Burge expected to get pushed by Costigan. "Kyle is very gifted physically,'' he said, "and that's pushed me to work harder and change my style of play.''
Change how? "Be a bit more mean, I guess,'' he said.
Does that mean be more aggressive? "More aggressive, yes,'' he answered.
Has he been too laid-back at times? "I would say that,'' Burge admitted.
That may have been a byproduct of being a career backup, he conceded.
"I've always had guys like Kevin (Zeitler) or Ricky (Wagner) in front of me,'' he noted.
That all changed in the spring. "I knew I had a shot after Kevin was gone,'' Burge said of Zeitler, a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. "I knew that I would have that opportunity (to play).''
That entailed a mental adjustment. "I've definitely been more aggressive,'' he said.
As such, the 6-foot-7, 320-pound Burge has tried to "play stronger and with a lower pad level.''
That can be problematic for someone his height, especially at guard. But he has an understanding of leverage thanks to the eight years that he spent training in Tae Kwon Do.
When he was 16, he gave it up to concentrate on playing high school sports.
"I was a red belt, one belt away from a black belt,'' he said. "I just couldn't push it to get the black belt. But the karate has helped me a lot with my coordination and striking ability.''
That discipline may have also helped Burge deal with some adversity last season. As one of the blockers in the protective shield in front of punter Brad Nortman, he had a couple of costly breakdowns.
"I just kind of put it behind me,'' Burge said of the memory of blocked punts in losses at Michigan State and Ohio State. "It's something that happened and something I learned from.''
Knowing now that he could have an impact as a potential starter on the offensive line, Burge has tried to learn as much as possible from his more experienced teammates like center Travis Frederick.
"I know Travis has always given me tips that have helped me out a lot,'' he said.
But, then, so has Wagner whenever he has lined up at tackle.
What about the difference in playing guard or tackle?
"You've got to be more physical on the inside because there are a lot bigger and stronger guys,'' Burge said. "On the outside, you've got to use more finesse and move your feet a little better.''
During the offseason, once he re-committed to playing football, Burge reshaped his body.
"I started to eat better, not as many pizzas and sodas; I ate a lot more fruit and vegetables,'' he said. "I know Coach B has said that I looked like I had slimmed down, but I kept the same weight on.''
There's no question that Burge has waited a long time for this opportunity to be a contributor.
"I just have to keep playing like I've been playing,'' he said. "I've had one or two middle-of-the road days. Most of the rest of the day, I've been pretty on. So has Kyle. We've been competing well.''
How has Frederick tried to facilitate an easier transition for Burge and/or Costigan?
"When I give my adjustment calls, I make sure they know where they're going,'' Frederick said. "Just because they're switching in and out (at right guard), you're not getting as much time together; you're not getting as used to each other.
"I try to give them as much as I can as far as the (pre-snap) adjustments instead of assuming they know -- a lot of times they will -- but just because of the continuity issues I want to give them the best opportunity that they can have.''
Frederick has not appreciably changed his game to accommodate one over the other, either.
"It's very similar between the two of them,'' he said of Costigan and Burge. "We've switched around so much that you get used to playing with everybody. It gets to the point sometimes when you don't know who's playing next to you, if you don't get a peek at him.''
Frederick, though, has not forgotten Costigan from his days as a defensive tackle.
"That's something I don't miss,'' Frederick said. "He's probably one of the strongest, if not the strongest, player on the team. I'm glad to have him on our side of the ball instead of banging heads with him all the time.''
Costigan's experience as a defensive lineman has already been put to good use.
"What I personally hated going against, I can use as an advantage now,'' he said. "I can see the changes in their stance by how much weight they're putting on their hand. I know all the nuances of defensive line play and I have an easier time seeing that stuff.''
Does he play on offense with the aggressive mentality of a player on defense?
"I'd definitely say that I have that tenacity,'' Costigan said. "But it gets me into some rough places sometimes. I'll be pass-protecting and I'll want to lunge at that guy but I have to be patient. I have the mindset that I want to attack. But if you lunge, that's a defensive lineman's dream.''
Costigan is candid about his strengths and weaknesses. "I feel like I'm a good run blocker,'' he said, "and I'm having the most trouble in pass protection. It's something I've never done before. I've never backed up from a person. That's taking some getting used to, but that's improved a lot.''
To hone his rough edges, Costigan has watched a lot of film on Zeitler. "I want to mimic what he does,'' he said. "I want to play like he plays. But he's such an animal. It's hard to mimic a first round draft pick. He played the position for four years here. I can't copy everything right off the bat.''
In addition to the advice that he has received from Zeitler, Costigan has gotten some pointers from former UW center Peter Konz, who was very good at pulling and leading interference on sweeps.
That's part of his new job description. Although he wrestled just one year in high school, Costigan has also been able to incorporate some of those lessons into the type of player he is today.
"Wrestling is still probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, and it has helped so much with my leverage and body position, '' he said, adding that the goal on the mat translates nicely to his goal on every snap. "Get inside (your opponent) and make somebody weak even if they may be strong.''
Until further notice, the Badgers are counting on strength in numbers at right guard.
That would be No. 54, Costigan; and No. 64, Burge.
Derek Watt couldn't wait to break the news to his older brother last Sunday. But there was one hang-up. He couldn't get a hold of J.J. Watt. "He's probably busy rehabbing his elbow,'' Derek said.
Probably, since J.J. has been sidelined with a dislocated elbow since early August. The former Wisconsin defensive end is expected to miss the entire preseason with the Houston Texans.
"We'll get in touch,'' Derek promised.
At the time, he was also planning on reaching out to Bradie Ewing, the former UW fullback who blew out his knee in a preseason game with the Atlanta Falcons last week. Ewing has been lost for the year.
"Bradie was one amazing fullback and one amazing person,'' Watt said, "and he changed the outlook for a lot of guys on this team. He was a huge leader and we were pretty good friends.''
Ewing has become an even bigger resource for Watt since last Sunday. That's when Watt agreed to make the move from linebacker to fullback on the suggestion of Badgers head coach Bret Bielema.
"He (Bielema) told me that he thought it would be best for the team and in my best interests,'' said Watt, a redshirt freshman from Pewaukee. "He said that I could take my time to think about it.
"But I didn't want to wait too long. We're already pretty far into camp right now, so I'm already a little behind. They're working on getting me a playbook so I can be ready for practice.''
In high school, Watt was a running back in a Wing-T offense.
"I was a wingback, but I also played some tailback, which is kind of a fullback in the Wing-T,'' he said. "I got a little taste of blocking once in awhile. It's going to be a little different here.''
Before he could answer whether he has missed running the ball, he was advised that he wouldn't be getting the rock here anyway, never mind. "I was just going to say that,'' Watt chuckled.
But, if everything falls into place, he wouldn't rule out contributing in other facets of the position. "Hopefully I'll be able to get out on some routes and catch some passes in the flat,'' he said.
That was the case last season for Ewing, who finished the year without a single carry but had 20 catches for an average of 12.3 yards per grab.
Last fall, Watt and Jake Keefer, another redshirt freshman, were taking most of the reps at linebacker on the scout team. Keefer is now wearing No. 93 and practicing with the defensive line.
"They're trying to experiment with guys in new places, especially during camp,'' Watt said. "I'm just one of those guys. Coach B has said that he's going to put guys in position to get on the field.
"I feel like if I do things the right way I can make it happen.''
At linebacker, Watt and Marcus Trotter were competing for time behind Chris Borland.
"I was splitting reps with Marcus and I wasn't getting as many reps as some of the other guys,'' Watt said. "I was watching a lot of film and taking mental reps when Chris and Marcus were in there.
"It was just the way the chips fell. I'm going to try and embrace playing fullback.''
Bielema is optimistic about Watt making a successful transition to offense, which would be a nice twist to the storyline since J.J. Watt came to Wisconsin as a tight end before moving to D-end.
"I used to hear all the time when I was a young coach,'' Bielema said, "that every fullback should play linebacker and every linebacker should play fullback.
"That's just an old-school way of thinking and it's not necessarily true. But just from watching him, Derek might be a better offensive player ... I just think he's wired in that way.''
Bielema cited the example of former Iowa linebacker-slash-tight end Dallas Clark.
"I'm not drawing any comparisons,'' cautioned Bielema, qualifying his remarks. "But when I was a linebacker coach, Dallas was a linebacker for me for two years and I couldn't get him on the field.
"He moves to tight end and becomes the highest paid tight end in the NFL (with the Indianapolis Colts) because he just fit better offensively. Hopefully that same thing holds true for Derek.''
The 224-pound Watt isn't sure whether he will be asked to add weight, or take it off. A teammate kidded that he was in good shape for the move since he has a fullback number, No. 34.
"Right now with the switch,'' Watt said, "I'm trying to learn everything I can at fullback and I'm also trying to get on the field with special teams to make an immediate impact. That's my main goal.''
Media days can be monotonous for players because of the repetitive nature of the questioning.
Mostly it's a harmless fluff-and- flash (bulb) exercise; one lost hour out of the day -- unless you're Wisconsin linebacker Ethan Armstrong, who was actually looking forward to Sunday's media day at Camp Randall Stadium from the perspective of "I was sure hoping I would see'' another one.
"I don't want to take anything for granted,'' he said.
That's because the last time the Badgers played a home game -- Nov. 26, 2011 against Penn State -- Armstrong was taken off the field in an ambulance after being injured while covering a second-quarter kickoff. The worst-case scenario was that he had dislocated both hips, so there was added precaution. But it wasn't as bad as it initially looked, he said; only a partial dislocation of his right hip.
"It was probably scarier for my parents than it was for me,'' Armstrong said. "They weren't at the game, so they had to watch it on TV. I'm sure it was a frightening experience. I don't really remember all that I was thinking (during the ambulance ride to the hospital). I was just really disappointed and hoping my teammates would continue to play well and get that victory.''
That was the good news: the Badgers closed out the regular season by crushing Penn State, 45-7, and advancing to the inaugural Big Ten championship game. The bad news was that Armstrong's season was over. Some might have viewed his college football career in the same light. Addressing the number of people who likely counted him out, he said, "There was probably more than I want to know.''
That's why his presence at Sunday's media day was so meaningful. "I love the game, I love this place, I love playing here -- I couldn't ever see myself doing anything else,'' said Armstrong, a redshirt junior from Ottawa, Ill., who's battling to be the No. 3 linebacker on defense alongside Mike Taylor and Chris Borland. In this sense, Armstrong said that he has to prove to himself that "I can do it, that I can come back and be the same player and play at the same level that I was before the injury.''
Armstrong had surgery on one hip in December, and the other hip in January.
"Physically, I'm as healthy as I'm going to get,'' he said.
Before he could continue, he was interrupted and asked, "What does that mean?''
You're as healthy as you're going to get?
"It means I'm feeling good,'' said Armstrong, who missed spring practice while he was recovering from surgery. "I'm full-go, I'm 100 percent. Obviously, there's going to be a little soreness, a little bit of tightness from day to day. But it's about maintaining and staying as healthy as I can.''
Armstrong is 21. Does he ever feel like he's 61 when he gets up in the morning?
"As long as I wake up with the right mindset I'm good to go,'' he said, smiling.
That's a pretty refreshing attitude which he also applies to his walk-on status.
"That's probably been harder on my folks than me,'' he said. "They've given me a great opportunity -- the chance to come here and play -- and they've been amazing to me. They've done nothing but support me since Day One, so it's been harder on them to pay tuition, especially out of state tuition.
"But they haven't said anything about it. They want me to do what I want to do.''
Having endured so many setbacks -- including shoulder and finger surgery -- Armstrong just wants to prove that he can be a steady contributor. "I've tried to stay as positive as I could, but it has been tough, any injury is,'' he said, adding that at least he knows what to expect from rehab; a kind of "been there, done that'' mentality.
"You know the kind of hurdles you're going to have to jump and the trials that you're going to face coming back from it,'' he said.
When he has played, he has been productive.
"But I have a lot to prove; I have to prove that I can be that guy, that starter,'' said Armstrong, noting that he has to prove his worthiness to his coaches and teammates. "Frankly, I have to prove to the whole Wisconsin nation that I'm good enough to play with those guys, good enough to be a scholarship athlete and good enough to earn my way on this team.''
Armstrong is so gung-ho about getting back to work that he's excited by the prospect of two-a-days practice, normally the bane of every player. "That's just because I want to be here so bad,'' Armstrong said. "It's not as much of a grind as everyone says ... (for me) it's definitely making sure that my body can keep up with what my mind and my heart wants it to do.''
-- Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor knows that someone is "watching.'' But that doesn't mean he's losing sleep over showing up on the preseason watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award and the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
He's not tossing and turning, either, over his name somehow being left off the Butkus Award list, which is 51 deep and includes Badgers teammate Chris Borland.
"Some people made a big deal out of it, but I don't think it's a big deal at all; it has nothing to do with football at all,'' said Taylor, the pragmatic senior from Ashwaubenon, Wis., and the leading tackler in the Big Ten last season. "All I can control is what I do on the field and helping the team win.''
Only two players in college football had more tackles than Taylor in 2011: Boston College's Luke Kuechly, a first-round NFL draft pick of the Carolina Panthers, had 191; and Tulsa's Curnelius Arnick had 159. Taylor had 150, seven more than Borland. Moreover, Ohio State's Etienne Sabino started only five games last year, two in the Big Ten, and finished with 62 tackles, yet Sabino is on the 2012 Butkus list.
Go figure. Taylor isn't about to try.
Overall, the Badgers have eight different players on preseason watch lists, ranging from wide receiver Jared Abbrederis on the Biletnikoff Award list to tailback James White on the Doak Walker Award list. Center Travis Frederick is on three lists, while left tackle Ricky Wagner is on the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award lists.
Abbrederis and Wagner are both former walk-ons from Wisconsin high schools.
"It's an honor to be on some of those watch lists,'' said Wagner, a 6-foot-6, 322-pound senior from West Allis (Nathan Hale). "But I really can't be focusing on that during the year. If I start thinking like I have to win the Outland, I don't think I'll have a good year.''
You can understand why Wagner might think that way since his UW predecessors at left tackle -- Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi -- each won the Outland Trophy. "They're great resources to have, obviously,'' Wagner said. "You can go to the tape room at any time and watch these great players.''
Wagner wasn't limiting his "great players'' reference to just Thomas and Carimi -- citing the positive influences of Kevin Zeitler, Peter Konz, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy, among others. A couple of years ago, when NFL players were locked out of training camp, Thomas did much of his training in Madison and left quite an impression on Wagner. "It was great talking to a legend like Joe,'' he said.
It went beyond hero worship, though, because Wagner listened and learned from Thomas. "I really respect Joe's workmanlike mentality,'' he said. "You have to think about what you're doing as a job -- even in college -- and you've got to go to work every day, take care of business and go home.''
Carimi impacted Wagner in a different way. And it wasn't so much about the way he trained during the off-season as much as it was about the way he gained an edge on opponents on the playing field.
"I like Gabe's physical aspect,'' Wagner said. "He had an attitude on the field; he got really mean. That was something I really respected about Gabe. And I've got to improve on that.''
Wagner is among the most soft-spoken players on the team. That's his demeanor. This is not to suggest that he never loses his temper; never shows a mean streak. But he is understated compared to more demonstrative teammates. "I've not been a very vocal guy; I lead more by example,'' he said.
The Badgers took three players to Big Ten Media Days and Wagner was one of them, joining Taylor and tailback Montee Ball. While conceding "it takes awhile for me to get comfortable'' speaking to outsiders, Wagner also said the Chicago exposure "was kind of a unique experience.''
Regarding shouldering more responsibilities as a team leader, Wagner said, "I try to work hard on the field and show the younger guys how to practice. I never take practice for granted because that's where games are won.
"If something needs to be said, I'll step up and say something.''
That has been Taylor's approach. "I want to be a leader and I see myself as a leader,'' Taylor said. "Just because maybe I don't talk as much as I should -- or talk as much as people think I should -- it doesn't mean that I don't lead by example. When I do say something, it comes from the heart.''
Taylor would rather talk with his pads, an old school cliché that's still true today.
"I've played sports my whole life and I was never really a big talker,'' said Taylor. "But my teammates would see the way I conducted myself and they would follow. You don't have to talk to get other people motivated. You can be a leader by just doing things the right way.''
Apparently that's not good enough for the Butkus watch list. Nine players from the Big Ten made the cut, but Taylor, the league's defensive player of the week three times last season, is snubbed.
Guess he will just have to play his way on to the list, which would be his preference anyway.