Walk-ons have been a backbone of the Wisconsin football program since Barry Alvarez put an emphasis on the program when he arrived in Madison in 1990. Since then, 76 players that walked onto the team at UW have gone on to be awarded scholarships. Well, make it 77.
Head coach Gary Andersen added another member to that list Sunday as the Badgers gathered for a team meeting on the eve of their first practice sessions of Fall Camp 2014. At the end of a trivia game -- bucket hats were the prize for correct answers -- Andersen posed a question to sophomore long snapper Connor Udelhoven: How many walk-ons have earned a scholarship under the current coaching staff's watch?
Udelhoven missed the multiple-choice question (the correct answer is eight, well, now nine) but that had no bearing on Andersen's decision to add him to the ranks of the players on scholarship.
Nothing better as a Coach than watching young men reach their goals. #OnWisconsin
The Badgers split up and went their separate ways again Tuesday for the second day of practices inside Camp Randall Stadium, with one group teeing it up at 6:20 a.m. and the other taking its turn at 1 p.m.
As was the case Monday, the 16-period practices were shorter than what the team would usually face in the first week of camp, but the split-squad approach actually allowed players to take part in more reps than normal. Both sessions followed the same script, with the offense and defense squaring off in a third-down pass skeleton competition to close out practice.
The defense won bragging rights -- and the right to watch the offense be subjected to a little extra running -- in the morning practice, with CB Sojourn Shelton's breakup of a Tanner McEvoy pass intended for WR Robert Wheelwright among the highlights. It was a different story in the afternoon, with the offense getting the last laugh thanks to a couple of connections between QB Joel Stave and WR Reggie Love during the first team's reps and a nice catch and run by freshman RB Taiwan Deal on a pass from QB Bart Houston to cap the No. 2 unit's turn.
The Badgers' starting QB contenders, McEvoy and Stave, switched spots on Day 2 after Stave got the morning call and McEvoy took the afternoon shift on Monday.
Wednesday brings another set of split-squad workouts but marks the team's first practices in "Badger Gear," a limited set of pads. The full pads come out Friday, something head coach Gary Andersen is anxiously awaiting if his post-practice tweet is any indication.
Good day of work for our guys with a schedule that got everybody reps. Looking forward to getting the pads on!! #Badgers
The month-long march to a much-anticipated season opener began Monday for the Wisconsin football team, which took the field at Camp Randall Stadium in shifts for the first practices of the 2014 season.
The 14th-ranked Badgers opened fall camp -- and, in essence, their preparation for No. 13 LSU -- with a pair of split-squad sessions aimed at maximizing the number of reps for each player. The divided approach will continue Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before the Badgers strap on full pads for the first time on Friday.
The morning session's 6:20 a.m. start time meant football under the lights for the first group of players, who drilled for 16 periods with a number of their teammates who were slotted into the afternoon session on hand as spectators. "If they think that they can gain something out of a practice, then they can come in and watch it," UW head coach Gary Andersen said of the non-participating players. "If I was fighting for a spot, pretty good chance I'd be sitting in those stands."
"I like the schedule," he added. "I think it's great. The reps were fantastic."
One highlight came from freshman kicker Rafael Gaglianone, who went 5-for-5 on field goal tries to open the practice, including an on-the-money boot from 49 yards that had plenty of yardage to spare. "You're going to make me comment on a kicker after one day?" Andersen quipped when he was asked about Gaglianone's performance after the day's second practice.
"He hit them all and he was very confident," Andersen said. "He said, 'Don't worry, coach, I'll make them all.' It was good. I like it. It's better than saying, 'Coach, I plan on missing three today.'"
Also drawing strong reviews was freshman wide receiver George Rushing, whose exploits in the morning session included a one-handed catch he made despite losing a shoe while running his route, and afternoon participant Taiwan Deal, who Andersen is hopeful can take the role of No. 3 tailback behind junior Melvin Gordon and sophomore Corey Clement.
The Badgers were up and at it early on Wednesday, hitting the field inside the McClain Center for a practice session that got underway just before 6 a.m. in order to accommodate pre-spring break exams for a number of players. Darius Hillary and the defense spent a good portion of the session backed up against the end zone working to defend the Badgers' receivers.
Head coach Gary Andersen met with members of the media following the Badgers' early-morning practice session Wednesday inside the McClain Center.
Among the highlights of Andersen's update: - Assistant coach Chris Beatty has taken over as the Badgers' recruiting coordinator, replacing Thomas Hammock, who is now the running backs coach with the Baltimore Ravens
- Leon Jacobs has moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, with Andersen noting the play of Jesse Hayes at OLB this spring as a reason for shifting Jacobs inside
Spring football is underway, but it's hardly the first time the Badgers have been on the field since returning from the Capital One Bowl. How did they get to this point? Check out a behind-the-scenes look at winter conditioning for the Badgers, which was designed by the UW strength and conditioning staff to be a highly-competitive lead-in to spring ball.
The offensive and defensive lines battled it out in a series of one-on-one drills during Monday's practice, including this head-to-head matchup between OL Kyle Costigan and DE Konrad Zagzebski (Brian Mason photo).
Running backs Corey Clement and Melvin Gordon are expected to spend most of spring on the sideline as less experienced players get the majority of the reps, which was exactly the case Saturday as the duo looked on at drills inside the McClain Center (Brian Lucas photo).