April 9, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin’s first-year linebackers coach Dave Huxtable didn’t waste any time winning over his players. Befitting his 29 years of college experience, he knew what buttons to push.
“He showed a lot of energy when he introduced himself to us,” said Mike Taylor. “He’s a player’s coach. Everyone likes his attitude, his mentality and his personality.”
That bond has grown on the field. “It’s real easy to take coaching from him,” Taylor said. “Do something good, and he’s going to let you know. Screw up, and he’s going to let you know, too.”
Bret Bielema has joked that the excitable Huxtable can work up a sweat in a coaches meeting.
“I love what I do,” said Huxtable, who spent the last seven seasons as an assistant at Central Florida, including the last three as the team’s defensive coordinator. “I love the game of football.”
Besides being among the most animated coaches during spring practices, Huxtable has brought a little bit of a different approach to watching and breaking down film with his position group.
“Sometimes,” Taylor said, “it takes about 10 minutes to get through just three or four plays because he breaks down everything for us. He really likes to coach every aspect of the play.”
Details, details, details.
“I want to be exact, I want to be detailed,” Huxtable stressed. “I want them to understand exactly what we’re doing and why we’re doing it – not just a ‘Hey, you go here and you go there.’
“I want them to understand the big picture and where everybody belongs and how important it is for us to all do our jobs. I might not get through as many plays (during a film session).
“But I want them to learn through me being detailed and this kind of structure.”
Huxtable has already learned some valuable things about his personnel at linebacker, even though the group is a work in progress because of injuries to Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong.
On Borland: “I’ve watched film on him, and he’s a playmaker. He makes the plays that he’s supposed to make and then he makes plays that have you going, ‘Wow, where did he come from?’ Hopefully he will raise everyone’s level of play the way he plays the game.”
On Marcus Trotter: “I love his energy. He still makes some mistakes as a young player but he’s been very productive and has made a lot of plays for us. I just like his want-to and the passion that he brings every day to practice. I’ve been really impressed with him.”
On Kevin Claxton: “He understands the defense and he’s working hard at getting better at all the things we’re asking him to do. Kevin is continuing to get better with more repetitions. He’s had a good spring and, along with Mike Taylor, he has a coach-me-coach attitude.”
On Taylor: “He’s one of our most experienced linebackers and he’s got a good feel for knowing the defense. That knowledge and experience are not only valuable for Mike, but it’s also valuable for the younger kids to be able to observe and watch and learn off Mike.”
Taylor is just happy to be practicing this spring after dealing with a string of injuries.
“I haven’t been through a full camp my whole career here,” admitted Taylor, a junior from Ashwaubenon. “I’ve had neck surgery, a hamstring, an ACL. I didn’t even practice last spring.”
What a difference a year makes.
“As far as being healthy and running around, I feel the best I’ve been,” he said.
That was not always the case last season. Was he ever 100 percent?
“No,” he said. “But if you can run, you can play.
“You don’t feel sorry for yourself if you feel a little pain in your knee. You’re a linebacker, you’re playing for Wisconsin. You have to man-up and play.”
How important are spring drills?
“It’s definitely important, it’s practice, it’s time to get better,” Taylor said. “Last season is over. Everything this program has accomplished in the past, whether it was last year or 20 years ago, doesn’t matter. It’s a new season and it’s up to us move forward and accept it as a new challenge.”
In this context, Taylor sounds an awful lot like Borland.
“Whenever I see him that’s all we talk about,” Taylor said. “We talk about getting better as a team and how bad we both want to get out there for that first game.”
It makes Huxtable’s job that much more enjoyable when players are on that same page as he is.
And if you’re wondering if Huxtable really does get worked up during a coaches meeting …
“By golly so be it, that’s me and my personality and the way I am,” he said.