July 26, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- After completing their final summer conditioning workout of their collegiate football careers, a particularly satisfying rite of passage for fifth-year seniors, Wisconsin offensive tackle Rob Havenstein and defensive lineman Warren Herring were ready to take on the world.
At the very least, they were ready for Big Ten Media Days.
Havenstein, Herring and junior tailback Melvin Gordon will represent the Badgers during the 43rd annual kickoff event Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton Chicago. With the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, there will be 42 players on hand for the assembled writers, bloggers and sportscasters.
Havenstein, who’s from Mount Airy, Maryland, less than an hour from the Terrapins’ campus in College Park, is prepared for just about anything that he might be asked -- ranging from the four-team College Football Playoff to the unionization of players to full cost of attendance funding for student-athletes.
“Obviously, anyone can ask anything -- it is America after all,” Havenstein said with a wry grin. “What I’ve been told when you come to events like this, you’re going to get some cookie-cutter questions and you’re going to get some random questions; kind of few and far apart.”
Mostly, he anticipates people focusing on the UW depth chart (“There will be a lot of questions about the inner workings of who’s going to be playing this fall”) and specifically the looming quarterback battle between Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy. “There will be a ton of those questions,” he said.
So how would Havenstein respond to any inquiries about who might end up as the starting QB? “I’m going to tell them that I play offensive line and I’m not a quarterback,” he said. “I know there’s going to be good competition in fall camp and it’s only going to make us better in the end.”
There may be a few questions about Havenstein’s hair, too. There’s a lot less of it. For the past four years, he has sported shoulder-length hair which he has usually worn in a ponytail. Since getting most of it cut off a few weeks ago, Havenstein admitted that he has drawn many double-takes.
But there was more to his long locks than met the eye; there was a commitment above all else.
“The reason that I grew it out was to donate it (to Locks of Love) -- my mom had breast cancer when I was in the fourth grade,” said Havenstein, whose mother, Cheryl, is a 13-year breast cancer survivor. “Once I grew it out, I kind of liked it and I kept it. But now it’s a lot less hassle.”
Not that many are big enough to hassle the 6-foot-8, 333-pound Havenstein, who has reshaped his body every offseason since weighing 380 as a freshman. This summer, he said, “I was trying to get as strong as possible in the weight room; I tried to push my numbers as high as I could go.”
Along with making some pretty good gains on the squat rack, he said, “I had little more of an edge.” On his Twitter account (@RobBigDaddy78), he qualified all the hours that are earmarked for offseason conditioning by tweeting, “Time flies when you are with family.”
But now the time has come, he stressed, to get back on the field.
Asked to single out the best thing about the preseason training camp, he said, “The best thing is that summer and winter conditioning are over and you actually get to start playing real football. It’s good to put the pads on and start doing the things that you’ve been training to do.
“I didn’t come here to be an Olympic weight lifter; I came here to be a football player,” Havenstein pointed out. “But in order to be a good football player, you have to be a pretty strong guy. It’s just the natural cycle and now it’s time to put pads on and start hitting people.
“Anyone can look good in summer drills. But once you get to fall camp, it kind of weeds out who’s ready to play, who’s experienced, who’s stepping up, and who’s coming into their own. I think it’s going to be a really good thing for us this year.”
That’s about as much of a prediction as you’re going to get out of Havenstein. Same as Herring. They’re on the same wavelength, especially on the merits of training camp. There’s not much that Herring DOESN’T like. “Maybe the long days,” he said. “But those are sacrifices you have to make.”
It’s part of the game, he suggested. So is something else. “Seeing everyone get better, especially the young guys and the guys who didn’t get a lot of opportunities last year,” said Herring, citing his favorite thing about the August camp. “They’re a lot more hungry, and we’re just as hungry.”
“Being a senior, you have to be a leader – you have to lead by example – so when the younger guys are looking, you can’t be bending over (trying to catch your breath),” Havenstein said.
“You have to be giving maximum effort in everything you do.”
Havenstein picked up on the sacrifice theme.
“There are long days and hard times where you’re tired and you want to go back to bed,” he said, “but you can’t because you have to get up and grind with your brothers. There are 79 other guys (scholarship players) going through it and it only makes you better in the end.
“The hardest training camp was my freshman year because you don’t know what to expect from high school to college. That’s a big jump. Your head is not really swimming, you’re kind of drowning. But once you understand how to practice and how to play the game, you can work your way to get better.”
And there’s a difference between getting better and “just getting through it,” Havenstein said.
Did Herring feel like he got better this summer?
“Most definitely, just by pushing one another and the competition,” said Herring, who hails Fairview Heights, Illinois. “It’s a competitive environment, no matter how old you are, and there are other guys who really want to play and they’re going to gun for your position.
“Being a senior, you have to be a leader -- you have to lead by example -- so when the younger guys are looking, you can’t be bending over (trying to catch your breath). You have to be giving maximum effort in everything you do, so they can learn from you for when their time comes to lead.”
Havenstein interjected, “The first thing Warren talked about is very true -- us being seniors and taking on the leadership -- and not just in our own position groups but as the overall leaders of the team; whether it’s leading by example or talking, whatever it is, everyone is going to have their niche.”
Last week, Havenstein and Herring were seated across from each other in the UW football office. They were cordial and polite. Their intensity level, of course, will be much different when they square off on the line of scrimmage during a full-padded practice. What happens when tempers flare?
“Obviously football is a physical sport,” Havenstein said. “When I say that, I’m understating it. Football is not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. And when you get two large males hitting each other, tempers are going to flare every now and then.
“Even when they do, I’m a strong believer, and I think Warren is as well, that whatever happens on the field stays on the field. When I come back to the locker room, I want to be joking with him even if we do end up with tempers flaring … Warren is one of my good friends, he came in with me.”
Herring is of the same belief. “Whatever happens on the field, stays on the field,” he repeated. “There may be some animosity with people competing and trying to take the next step in their game. Things like that are going to happen. And you can definitely expect it happening during fall camp.
“Camp is tough, a tough time for a lot of guys. It’s going to be wearing on them mentally as people are trying to get better. But when we step into the locker room, it’s a brotherhood -- when we step into the locker room, it’s family again.”
It’s time, though, to step back on the field.
“I’m ready to get into it,” Havenstein said, “and see what these warriors I play next to can do.”
“It’s about time,” Herring said, “to see what these last four years have turned us into.”
But, first, they both have get through the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
Havenstein and Herring know that they will field a lot of questions about the Big Ten/SEC matchup between Wisconsin and LSU to open the 2014 season in Houston.
“It’s a great team, a great opponent,” Havenstein said of the Tigers.
“It’s a big stage, big opportunity,” Herring said of the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium.
Almost in unison, they reiterated their respect for the LSU program.
Almost in unison, they agreed the opener would be a chance to show what Wisconsin can do.
Beyond that, Herring offered this bold forecast: “Better team wins.”
Yep, they’re ready for Media Days.