March 31, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- There's an unavoidable repetition to spring practice, one of the phases in the "process'' of building a football team. But there's also a freshness in developing a new personality.
"It's the start of a new process," said defensive tackle Patrick Butrym, a senior from New Berlin. "It's not like this is the same team, our Rose Bowl team. It's a totally new team."
Gone are J.J. Watt, Gabe Carimi, Jay Valai, Scott Tolzien, John Clay, John Moffitt, et al.
"When I look around, it's like, `Who are all these young guys? Where did my buddies go?'" said offensive center Peter Konz, a junior from Neenah. "That's kind of weird."
But such transitions are inherent to the annual personnel turnover.
To Konz, it means, "OK, you have to be the guy now doing the extra communicating on the field. If we're not having a good practice, you have to be the guy who gets them going."
To Butrym, it means, "I definitely have to be more vocal. The personality of your team changes so much when a class leaves. I'm the elder statesman now. I'm probably the oldest guy on the team."
Butrym is 22. He will be 23 in June.
"You have to respect the process," Butrym said. "Winter conditioning is important to develop a work ethic and the tough-minded mentality. We embraced that and we worked hard every day.
"But you didn't come here to be a weight lifter. You came here to be a football player. And you should never lose sight of that, especially now when you put on the pads on.
"We have good football players. And if we can continue to develop as a team physically and continue to bond and develop chemistry during the off-season we have a chance of being a good team."
The Badgers put the pads on last Saturday for the first time since the Rose Bowl.
That in itself was an adjustment.
"We're used to coming in here at 6 in the morning for winter conditioning when it's below zero," Konz said, "and then you put on the pads and it feels like an extra 30 degrees.
"It's not so much that the pads are that much heavier. But it's a different feeling and you have to get used to wearing them again. Your body has to get used to sweating with the added heat."
Considering the first two practices were not padded, Butrym said, "This erases all uncertainty. And I thought we did a good job of playing physical. It was a good tempo for the first day in pads."
For the vets, there's a method to getting the most out of the non-tackling drills.
"But you're always going to have young guys who are eager," Butrym said, "and there will be people on the ground" prompting immediate rebukes from the coaches.
"The older guys respect each other a lot and have been going against each other for so long," he added, "that we keep each other up and still play hard. I thought we played really hard today."
In this context, when Konz was asked about the one-on-one jousts with Butrym in practice, he said, "It's like playing mental games - like Batman against the Joker."
That cracked up both Konz and Butrym.
"We've probably taken 1,000 reps against each other since we've been here," Butrym said.
"Maybe more," interjected Konz.
"You literally know everything about each other," Butrym said. "It's like a chess match. He'll make a move and I'll make an adjustment. It's like a boxing match; a punch and a counter-punch."
"Once you get into a game during the season," Konz said, "it's so much different because the guy across from you has seen only a couple of games of film on you and has no idea who you are."
For now, though, it's all part of the process.
"The spring is really the first part," Konz said. "You have a weight room personality during winter conditioning and that translates a little bit into what you're doing now with the pads on.
"But when you're hitting people and flying around, it's different. When you're tired and physically exhausted, you find out who's going to step up and what this team is going to be like."
What's the offensive huddle like without Tolzien, a two-year starter?
"Jon is still trying to step up as the leader," Konz said of Jon Budmayr, who was Tolzien's backup last season. "The quarterback is supposed to control the huddle. But we've got so many older guys - me and Kevin (Zeitler) and Jake (Byrne) - who are stepping up until he takes control."
That, too, is part of the process, Konz said.
Budmayr is no different than Tolzien, who had to earn the respect of his teammates.
"He (Budmayr) has to pay his dues a little bit but it will happen," Konz said.
Konz and Butrym obviously have already been down this path. As returning starters and upper classmen, they're now conditioned to shouldering more responsibilities.
"It's like a social norm for the football team," Konz said. "The older guys expect you to follow their lead by doing extra work and being a smart player. We've built that kind of atmosphere at Camp Randall where if you're not doing that you should be feeling guilty.
"I don't know how many nights I'd be going home after practice and I'd see Gabe (Carimi) or Moff (John Moffitt) going up to watch film. And I'd think to myself, `I've got to do the same thing.' Once you start doing it, even some of the guys who aren't playing will say, `Maybe I should be up there, too.'
"That's just something we've learned from the classes ahead of us."
Punctuality is also part of the process, especially during winter conditioning. If the workout is schedule for 6 a.m., then everyone is expected to be ready to go at 5:30 a.m., Konz said.
"We made sure we weren't going to have anybody late," he went on, "because that means punishment - being late is like a penalty in football, something bad happens."
What about things out of a player's control? Like a blizzard. "You've got to make sure you know what the weather is going to be like," Konz said. "That's part of being a smart team."
In other words, there are no excuses. That carries over to the practice field.
"We had some fumbled snaps between our second-team quarterback and center," Konz said. "So after practice, we'll do snaps all the way down the field. That reinforces things.
"If you're not getting the snaps, then you should be doing more of them after practice. And if you're still messing up, then you should be here before practicing doing them. Everything is a message.
"I'm not always telling guys,'Hey, this is what you need to do.'
But we'll put different kinds of pressure on them. If you're not going to be the guy, someone else will be. It's healthy, it's competition."
It's part of the blueprint for success.
"Individuals form a team," Butrym said. "But you can't have a great team if you don't have individuals who take care of their stuff. The off-the-field stuff leads to on-the-field production."
Which begs the question, he said, "If I can't trust you off the field, can I trust you on it?"
Butrym, like Konz, is going through a transition without some of his familiar sounding boards.
For the last four seasons, he roomed with linebacker Blake Sorenson, one of the departing seniors.
"Over the eight-week conditioning period, though, I've become really close with the defensive tackles and defensive ends," he said. "You just develop relationships, and a team personality."
Never underestimate the process, Butrym cautioned.
"The reason we were so good last year was that we respected the process of a game week," he explained. "We made every practice count. Do that and you're going to have success."
The 15 spring practices fall under the same category.
"What you do now will set you up for the fall," Konz said.