Oct. 7, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- When the conversation got around to quantifying toughness, physical or otherwise, Wisconsin offensive guard Kyle Costigan sounded uncomfortable with the questioning; not that he isn’t tough.
On the contrary, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Costigan is considered to be among the toughest players on the team. He just doesn’t want to hear about it; nor really talk about it.
“Anyone can be tough,” he said dismissively. “It’s just a mental thing.”
It’s generally mind over matter. Yet it’s more problematic when it’s a matter of dealing with the pain from a dislocated kneecap. Costigan dealt with that issue last season.
“Having the mental drive to try and do the best you can possibly do in a situation” is how Costigan defined toughness. “If that’s fighting through pain …”
So be it: you play with pain. In the 2012 Big Ten opener, Costigan dislocated his kneecap against Nebraska, but he held it together with duct tape -- or the equivalent thereof -- and finished the game.
There are other examples of toughness, according to Costigan, especially mental toughness.
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“It’s really a broad thing,” he said. “If that’s memorizing a playbook and getting everything down and knowing every defensive front, that’s a different aspect of it.”
In sum, Costigan suggested toughness “is just trying as hard as you can in everything you do.”
That fit the response that he gave when asked if he viewed himself as being tough.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can in my role. I guess if that’s what people think I’m doing (showing toughness), it’s a good thing. I just want to keep doing the best I can.”
Last Thursday, Costigan stepped outside of his comfort zone as a big, tough college football player -- not that he looks at himself that way -- and mingled with youngsters who are battling cancer.
It brought a warm smile to his face and a barber clippers to his scalp.
Along with seven of his teammates, Costigan took part in a “Shave to Save” function organized with American Family Children’s Hospital to bring more awareness to the research of childhood cancer.
The last time that Costigan had cut his hair was in February of 2012. It had grown long enough to wear it in a ponytail. “It was kind of growing on me,” he said, no pun intended.
Costigan and wide receiver Connor Cummings had a “slap” bet on who would cut their hair first. If Costigan lost, the 6-1, 196-pound Cummings would have the option to pick a proxy.
“He would have picked Beau,” Costigan said of Beau Allen, a 325-pound nose guard, “and I really didn’t want to get slapped by Beau. We decided this was for a good cause, so we called it a draw.”
|“Having the mental drive to try and do the best you can possibly do in a situation” is how Costigan defined toughness.
Costigan said that he grew out his hair because he could.
“Once you get out of college, you won’t really get that opportunity,” he explained. “It’s frowned upon to have long hair. I figured it was one of the last chances I might get, so I might as well try it.”
The hair will grow back; the knee cartilage is another thing.
“When you dislocate your knee, it shears off cartilage,” said Costigan, who had micro-fracture surgery at the end of last season. “I lost a lot of cartilage and that stuff just doesn’t come back.”
Costigan was not complaining; nothing of the sort.
“My body feels 10 times better now (than it did),” he said. “There’s still some pain but it’s light years ahead of where it was. When you’re missing cartilage between your joints, it’s a painful thing.”
But he can live with that. What he can’t live with is mistakes.
“Personally, I had that false start in the red zone (at Ohio State),” said Costigan, a junior from Wind Lake, Wis., less than 20 miles from Milwaukee. “It eats at me a lot; it’s something that still bothers me.”
On the final play of the first quarter, Joel Stave and Jared Abbrederis combined on a 64-yard pass completion to the OSU 13. On the next play, Costigan was flagged with a deadball foul.
The drive fizzled and the Badgers, trailing 14-7, wound up missing a 32-yard field goal.
“I was just trying to be too aggressive,” Costigan admitted. “I jumped the snap count to get a good combo (block) on the linebacker. I would do anything if I could go back in time and redo that.
“I just have to learn from it and improve.”
You could say the same about the Badgers as a whole. Last Saturday’s open date could not have come at a better juncture for everybody involved, particularly with Northwestern in the on-deck circle.
“It’s a good time to kind of restart the engine,” Costigan said, “and come back fired up.”
Costigan planned on watching the Ohio State-Northwestern game -- which the Buckeyes won 40-30 -- from the standpoint of a player getting ready for the next opponent, not a fan.
“I pretty much watch it like film, no matter what it is, I’m always watching the offensive and defensive lines,” he said. “It takes away from the entertainment aspect, but I can’t do it any other way.”
To this point, Costigan has liked what he has seen on film of his own play at right guard. He has been challenged by quality D-tackles, like Arizona State’s Will Sutton and Ohio State’s Michael Bennett.
“(Bennett) was really a good player, he might have been a little underrated because he’s new on the scene,” said Costigan, who has started each of the last three games and 13 times overall.
“I’ve cleaned up a lot of stuff with my technique and a lot of bad habits; everything is getting better from where I was last year. Hopefully I can get to where he wants me to be.”
Costigan was referring to UW offensive line coach T.J. Woods, who has refined his techniques. “In the run game, my footwork was all over the place,” said Costigan, who has taken to the instruction.
With the knee injury, he found himself compensating in other areas. “I tried to muscle through stuff forgetting about pad level,” he said, adding it to the list of things that had to be addressed.
Given last year’s turmoil, Woods has been a stabilizing influence on the offensive line, while UW head coach Gary Andersen has left his mark on each of the players with his sincerity, Costigan noted.
“He cares about you to the same extent that a father cares about his son,” he said. “It’s something bigger than football.”
That means a lot if you’re not only tough-minded, but open-minded.