April 9, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- “Fly High’’ was printed on the t-shirt that Marcus Trotter was wearing under his UW football practice jersey. The command could mean many things to Trotter, whose redshirt freshman season never got airborne. Flying was out of the question. So was running after popping both hamstrings.
“It was a heart-breaker,’’ he said.
But it goes much deeper than that for Trotter, a middle linebacker, and his twin brother, Michael, a free safety. Both are from Racine, starred at Milwaukee Marquette High School, and both are honoring their late brother Aleksas (Lex) Trotter with the “Fly High’’ reference as in “Fly High Lex.’’
“He was always flipping in the air -- flying,’’ Marcus Trotter said.
Aleksas Trotter was an exceptional high school gymnast; a state champion in the vault and floor exercise. But a shoulder injury prevented him from competing and reaching his expectations as a collegian. He attended Penn State and Marquette University before settling in Madison.
Lex Trotter passed away on April 19, 2008. He was 21.
“Every time I go out on the field for a rep, you might see me do this,’’ said Marcus Trotter pointing to the heavens. “I’m always reaching out for him.’’
Added Michael Trotter, who’s about a minute younger than Marcus, “Everything we do is for him (Lex). Every time we’re on the field, we feel like he’s with us. It’s awesome.’’
Everyone in their family shares that spirit, including Marcus and Michael’s sister Alana, a former member of the UW women’s basketball team. In 2007, she transferred to Wisconsin after one year at Ohio University. She played in only 12 games before missing the 2008-2009 season with an injury.
Alana left the basketball program in 2010 to concentrate on her schooling. At the time, she was carrying a double major in biology and African-American studies and considering becoming a physician. Marcus is also on the pre-med track, while Michael is focused on a business curriculum.
With a smile and a shrug, Michael said, “I’m going to be a little different.’’
That’s because his grandparents were doctors; they met in med school. So did his parents: Dr. John Trotter is an orthopedic surgeon in Racine, while Dr. Dana Trotter practices rheumatology and internal medicine. She also has sponsored 20 children in Kenya through Matanyas Hope.
Alana represented the family on a mission trip to Africa shortly after Lex’s death.
It’s fair to say that nobody in the Trotter clan takes short cuts -- academically or athletically.
The twins motivate each other -- in the classroom and on the practice field.
“Being a college athlete is very tough,’’ said Michael. “A lot of people on the outside don’t understand that, especially the route that we’re taking academically. Marcus is doing the doctor stuff and I’m doing business and it’s really competitive and stressful.’’
“A lot of times I’m stressed and tired, but he pushes me.’’
That has always been the case as teammates, too. As prep seniors, they helped lead Milwaukee Marquette to the WIAA Division I state championship. But whereas Michael Trotter is on scholarship at Wisconsin, Marcus Trotter is a walk-on.
Coming out of high school, his only offer was from Wofford.
“The great thing about having my brother here is when I’m down,’’ said Marcus, who was grateful for the support that he received last season while he was nursing his hamstring injuries. “Mike was always telling me, ‘Just be patient. Sooner or later, maybe not this year, it will soon pay off.’’’
One day after Marcus popped his hamstring last August in the UW’s preseason training camp, Michael popped his hamstring. “So I couldn’t do much motivating,’’ Michael said with a sigh. “Our bodies are so similar, we’re going to probably have the same reaction.’’
When the Badgers resume spring practice Tuesday at Camp Randall Stadium, the Trotters would appear to be in pretty good shape on the depth chart, and physically. Marcus has toned up by losing 16 points; he’s down to 222. Since last fall, Michael has lost 15 pounds; he’s down to 200.
“I feel like I’m moving a lot better, I don’t get as tired,’’ said Michael, whose asthma dictates that he keeps an inhaler on the sidelines. “Last season you’d see me over there all the time because it was hard to breath. I cut the weight, got new medicine and right now, it’s not a problem.’’
Michael did have an “issue’’ during a recent practice after making shoulder contact with a wide receiver coming over the middle during a non-contact drill. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema blew the whistle and summoned Michael to his side behind the offensive huddle.
“Coach B told me that I have to be smart on the field,’’ hel said. “It was obviously something I wouldn’t intentionally do, but stuff happens sometimes. Coach was kind of upset. He knows I’m smarter than that and he had to give me some words to make sure it won’t happen again.’’
Even though the Badgers must replace Aaron Henry, a fixture at free safety; they have some experience in the back end with Shelton Johnson, who has played in 35 games with 13 starts; and Dez Southward, who has played in 27 games with two starts. Michael is in the safety mix, the DB rotation.
“Shelton had a great season and Dez is doing a great job (this spring),’’ said Michael, who saw most of his action on special teams in 2011. “We don’t have much depth at safety and we’re looking for people to step up. I’m looking to be the guy to step up next year.’’
Marcus chuckled when asked about his twin getting scolded for hitting a receiver. “I’m a little biased, but even though the coaches were mad, it shows who Michael is as a football player; he’s going to lay the wood,’’ he said. “I think the fans are going to like what they see out of my brother.’’
When he has been healthy, everybody has liked what they’ve seen out of Marcus, too. Last spring, he took a majority of the snaps at middle linebacker with the No. 1 defense because Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong were rehabbing shoulder injuries. Marcus is in that spot again.
Armstrong is not practicing this spring after hip surgery. Borland is limited because of a groin injury. That has led to more snaps for Marcus, who’s working under his third linebackers coach in as many years. Andy Buh has replaced Dave Huxtable (now at Pitt), who had replaced Dave Doeren (Northern Illinois).
“That’s what we love about Coach Bielema -- whenever a coach leaves, we have trust in him that he will bring in somebody just as good,’’ Marcus said. “We all love Coach Buh. He’s not the type of coach to yell at you every single play. But he’s definitely going to push you to your limit.
“I really feel like he’s going to get the most out of me; I’ve already seen the improvement.’’
As Borland’s backup, Marcus understands his role is to compete and “try and get him better.’’
In turn, he has been learning everything that he can from Borland. “I’ll be taking a water break and he’ll come over and say, ‘Marcus, you’re supposed to do this or that,’’’ Trotter related. “That just shows you the character of Wisconsin football.
“Even if you’re competing with someone (Borland) who’s older than you, they’re still going to try and help you get better. We don’t have any selfish players here. Chris Borland is an amazing football player. But he’s an even greater person off the field.’’
Marcus feels so much more sure of himself compared to last spring, when he admitted, “I was definitely scared’’ after making the jump from scout team to first team. “I was fifth string when I got here,’’ he said. “That was my goal (to start) but I didn’t know it was going to come that fast.’’
During his apprenticeship, he figured out things in a hurry -- namely survival.
“If you’re consistent,’’ he said, “you’re going to find time on the field.’’
Marcus had his heart set on being a contributor on defense and special teams in 2011.
“I thought I put myself in position to be in some second and third down packages,’’ he said.
Three days into fall camp, he injured his hamstring.
Two weeks into the season, the week of the Oregon State game, he popped his other hamstring.
“It all went down the drain,’’ he lamented. “I went from a position where I felt that I was going to play a lot to a position where I had to sit out most of the season. I basically lost my position.’’
In this context, it was important for Marcus to re-establish himself this spring.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to run full speed since August,’’ he said. “The two times I hurt my hamstring was on a stretch play. I remember the same instance when it popped. When they ran it (in practice recently) nothing happened and I made the play. I thought, ‘OK, I can get through this.’’’
With a little help from above.
“Every time we go on the field,’’ said Marcus, speaking for Michael, “we do it for him (Lex).’’