Aug. 4, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- What’s it like to follow in the footsteps of Chris Borland? Just ask Marcus Trotter. Better yet, ask him what’s it like to follow in the footsteps of his grandparents and parents?
Now that’s pressure. They were all doctors, and he wants to become one.
While the season opener against LSU looms as a major test for the Badgers, it’s just one game. In the big picture, it has nothing on another test, the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test).
Just ask Marcus Trotter, who has his postgraduate sights on medical school.
Or, better yet, ask his twin brother, Michael, who’s already working towards his master’s.
“Marcus and I put a lot of hard work in the classroom,” said Michael Trotter, who’s the younger brother by about 60 seconds. “Marcus is so intelligent; I think that’s why he’s such a good player.”
Michael can hold his own here. He has spent much of his summer preparing for a test, the CPA exam. He also has been helping out with accounting services in the UW Athletic Department.
“I was busy from 5 in the morning,” said Michael, who allotted up to six hours each day for studying.
Michael was planning on interning in Minneapolis with KPMG, one of the “Big Four” professional services networks, along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
But the coaches wanted him to stick around Madison for the summer conditioning session because they believe that he will have an expanded role in the defense as a linebacker.
KPMG responded by offering him a contract. “I guess the firm didn’t want to lose me because I might have gone somewhere else,” he said. “So they offered me the position and I took it.”
That leaves him signed, sealed and hoping to deliver -- like Marcus -- in his final year of football.
In sum, it just might take two Trotters and one Derek Landisch to replace Chris Borland.
“These young men have to just do what they can do and not try to replace a great one,” said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. “You don’t replace Chris with just one person.”
• • • •
Marcus Trotter has always approached the college game from the same perspective.
“I’ve always tried to prepare like I was the starter,” he said. “I always had that mindset.”
That was true even though his brother was offered a scholarship, and he wasn’t.
“Coming in here as a walk-on,” Marcus said, “you have to have that false hope.”
Against all odds, he still believed that he could find a way to get on the field at Wisconsin.
“But you still have to make sure you work as hard as you can,” he said, “because it’s easy to be complacent when you know that you have an All-American in front of you.”
Short in physical stature, bigger than life, Borland exceeded all expectations as a playmaker. In 53 career games, he had 410 tackles, 50 TFLs, 17 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and 8 recovered fumbles.
Trotter said UW defensive coordinator Dave Aranda met with the linebackers and reminded them, “There’s probably not going to be another Chris Borland coming through this university.”
Nodding knowingly, Trotter said, “He was that good.”
So good that Trotter took mental notes on Borland, on and off the field, and filed them away.
“It was great to play under Chris for so many years,” said Trotter, the backup at Mac, or middle linebacker, “just to see how he approached every day, not only in the weight room but also in practice.
“We all have to come together and play as one unit,” Marcus said of the Badgers’ linebackers.
“If we can do that, we can get the job done.”
“There are days when people don’t want to practice, the dog days of training camp when you’re tired. But he always had a great energy and it was a very positive energy.”
Positive was the operative word in Borland’s playbook.
“What he taught me,” Trotter said, “was to always be positive. When adversity strikes, he was always cheering people on, always having hope. He brought everyone with him; people followed him.”
Adversity struck Borland in the first quarter of last season’s Illinois game when he was injured covering a punt. Trotter took over for Borland and had a team-high nine tackles in a rout of the Illini.
With Borland still rehabbing a hamstring injury, Trotter got the starting assignment at Iowa and once again responded with a team-high nine tackles, including 1.5 TFLs in a hard-fought win.
“When I had my chance against Illinois and Iowa,” Trotter said, “there were a lot of times I went up to him on the sidelines and said, ‘Hey, Chris, I saw this or I saw that, what would you do?’
“A lot of times, he would just say, ‘You know what to do. Just relax and play football.’ It was very simple but it was very true. He just said, ‘Play football.’
“That’s the name of the game. If you’re too excited, if you’re trying to do too much, it’s going to hurt the team. Chris was always having fun in the game. He was never nervous, always relaxed.”
Last year’s playing experience at Illinois and Iowa should go a long way in relaxing Trotter.
“Before when I got some playing time here and there, it was during a blowout,” he said. “Having those two games -- where I was the person that they were relying on -- got my confidence up.
“Now that false hope I always had (of contributing) became real hope.”
It may be the biggest difference in Trotter coming into the 2014 preseason training camp.
“It’s different knowing Chris Borland isn’t here and Ethan Armstrong and all of those seniors aren’t here,” he said. “So now it’s on us, not only me, but all of the seniors, to lead this team.”
Having paid his dues, Trotter conceded, “I’ve waited a long time for the opportunity.”
But he knows how important it is to heed Andersen’s warning about trying to do too much.
“You have to do your job,” Trotter said. “If I have to fill the ‘A’ gap, if that’s my job to take on the blocker, then that’s what I have to do. I don’t have to come up with a Borland-type play.”
What Trotter and Landisch have to do is stay injury-free in order to give the Badgers some continuity at inside linebacker. To this end, the old high school rivals have begun developing chemistry.
Trotter, who’s from Racine, went to Milwaukee Marquette and Landisch, who’s from Nashotah, went to Arrowhead. Trotter still teases Landisch on what he perceived was a late hit on a receiver.
In any such discussion, Landisch is obviously outnumbered, 2-1, since Michael Trotter, a converted defensive back, has found a new home at Rover linebacker as Landisch’s backup.
Michael Trotter also has waited a long time for the opportunity.
“Two years ago, I had my chance and I played well at times and I played bad at times,” said Michael, who started three games at safety during the 2012 season. “Last year injuries ruined the show.
“So I think this is the year and I want to go out on a good note.”
During the spring, Landisch missed some practice time because of a class conflict and that allowed the Trotters to take reps, side by side, at linebacker for the first time since the seventh grade.
Because of his unfamiliarity with the play calls, Michael relied heavily on Marcus. “He’d say, ‘Get the B gap, it’s a guard pull,’” Michael said, “and I did and I got the tackle.’“
Looking ahead to the season, Michael said, “We have different pass coverages in different packages, so at times I’ll be in the game and at times Marcus will be in, that’s the plan.”
Marcus, who’s stout against the run, doesn’t have a problem with any such down-and-distance arrangement knowing that he doesn’t run as well as his brother.
“Michael is so fast, especially for a middle linebacker,” he said. “Having extra speed on the field is only going to help the team. He deserves it as much as me and I know he’s going to get the job done.”
Michael doesn’t look at any one linebacker having to replace Borland because “you really never do (replace him) whenever you have an amazing player.”
“Borland was a great player,” Michael went on, “and no one is going to achieve what he has. But we’re confident that we’re all good enough to be able to help the defense.”
“We think of it as a team sport,” Marcus said. “And when you lose the MVP of the team, you have a team mindset, not only me, but we all have to come together and play as one unit.
“If we can do that, we can get the job done.”