June 30, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- In building a profile on Russell Wilson, UW coach Bret Bielema observed that “everything is on a check list’’ and “you can tell that he’s a guy who likes to have a plan layed out in front of him.’’
Ben Herbert has a plan for Wilson.
“The first thing we’re going to do is get him acclimated and comfortable with our system,’’ said Herbert, the irrepressible strength and conditioning coordinator for Badger football.
“But the sooner that he starts working with our guys and starts sweating with our guys and starts sacrificing with our guys; all those elements that go with a training environment …’’
Herbert paused and qualified what he was going to say next, “And this is a firm belief of mine.’’
Finishing his thought, he restated, “The sooner that he starts working with our guys, the faster that he will be accepted and the faster that he’s accepted the better our chemistry is going to be.’’
Herbert admitted that he doesn’t know much about Wilson’s history beyond the obvious -- that he was a decorated two-sport college athlete who signed a pro contract with the Colorado Rockies.
“That will be interesting; one dynamic that we will discuss,’’ Herbert said of Wilson’s training as a Class A ballplayer. “Looking at him, he seems to be a kid who stays on top of taking care of himself.
“He’s someone who has been in the collegiate environment … and he understands how his body tolerates stress and training because he has been exposed to it through baseball and football.’’
Nobody has more respect for Herbert’s plan -- and how to execute it -- than Bielema.
“Herbs has done a tremendous job the last two years,’’ Bielema said. “I can’t tell you how many times a parent or a kid would tell me, ‘Coach Herbert is the best we’ve been around.’’
Bielema said that they will often punctuate their praise by adding, “We’ve been all over this conference (Big Ten) and all over this country and your strength coach is the best we’ve visited with.’’
In singling out Herbert earlier this week, Bielema also cited the positive influence and impact that two of Herbert’s assistants have had on player development: Brian Bott and Jamil Walker.
To varying degrees, Herbert, Bott and Walker will each play a role in Wilson’s early transition.
At least until the opening of training camp in August, when the coaches take over.
“It’s all in their hands,’’ Bielema said of the weight training staff. “I kind of keep updated (from Herbert) in thoughts. But by NCAA rules, we’re hands off, we can’t do much.’’
Bott and Walker are among the program’s most unsung resources. The former is going into his 12th season on the staff; the latter is going into his fourth. They’ve meshed nicely together.
“My desk is right next to his (Bott’s) and he’s constantly talking to me and teaching me,’’ said Walker. “He’s a brilliant mind; very scientific. He knows what he’s doing.’’
|Jamil Walker, left, and Brian Bott are integral to Herbert's strength and conditioning program.
Herbert offered his own testimonial of Bott, a 1997 UW-Oshkosh grad, who got his master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of North Dakota.
“He’s as seasoned as anyone in the profession -- he was here when I was a player (1998-2001) so he’s seen a lot,’’ Herbert said. “He self-administrates; he takes care of his business.’’
To be precise, Bott takes care of offensive linemen, tight ends and fullbacks.
“He does an unbelievable job with those guys,’’ Herbert said.
All-American left guard John Moffitt, for one, heartily endorsed Bott’s mentoring.
“It’s a credit to coach Herb that he’s really open-minded,’’ Moffitt said. “He sees what works and he goes with it. He saw that coach Bott had a connection with the O-line and took pride in training us.
“So he kind of let us have him; he’s kind of our own strength coach. The energy and the intensity that he brings is amazing. He pushes guys and he makes them better.
“He has all the degrees and the necessary things. And that’s important, too. When there’s logic to what we’re doing, the guys really believe in it more and want to push harder.
“I’m done playing (for the Badgers) but I still consider Coach Bott one of my closest friends.’’
How does Bott explain his connection with these select position groups?
“My personality adheres to the way that they train,’’ he said. “And Ben has really given me some freedom with those guys.
“I really wanted to instill a mindset with that group last year. And, fortunately for me, I had some very vocal leaders who really bought into the things that both Ben and I were trying to sell them.
“I’m always trying to grow my knowledge base by throwing ideas off other people. I use a lot of resources, not only here, but also in the professional ranks; people I really trust.
“Sometimes it’s hard because one of your ideas might get a ‘What are you doing that for? Or, why would you do that?’ You have to be able to take the good with the bad in your thoughts.
“It’s a lot of trial and error sometimes … There are not a lot of secrets out there anymore, not with the Internet and YouTube. It’s just application and getting the kids to buy into what you’re doing.’’
Bott has tried to help school Walker on some different elements, such as the administrative end of the job; how to work and deal with coaches; how to handle different personalities among athletes.
“There are so many aspects of being a strength coach you don’t really think of when you go into the profession,’’ Bott said, crediting John Dettmann for showing him the ropes at a younger age.
Dettmann, who now oversees the entire strength and conditioning operation, was the football coordinator for nearly two decades, including for UW’s three Rose Bowl wins under Barry Alvarez.
“We really try to make sure everyone is ready to handle their different roles,’’ Bott said. “Ben does a great job of trying to give people tasks that they can handle and be successful with.’’
Walker, like Herbert, made the transition to the staff at the end of his UW playing career; which had shown some real signs of promise in 2004 when he burst on to the scene as a freshman tailback.
While the starter, Anthony Davis, was sidelined with an injury, Walker filled the void by rushing 16 times for 88 yards against UNLV. His first collegiate carry went for 23 yards.
“When you first come in, everybody has the aspirations of going pro,’’ said Walker, an all-state performer in football at Palatine (Ill.) Fremd.
But it never panned out for Walker, who was passed on the depth chart by P.J. Hill. That eventually led to a position switch to defensive end (not unlike Herbert, who also wound up there).
“Once I realized that wasn’t going to come true,’’ Walker said of his NFL dream, “I wanted to set myself up (after college) and I’ve always had a passion for the weight room. I love the weight room.’’
After serving as an intern, Walker knew that he had found his calling.
“The hardest thing when I first started was that I played with all of those boys,’’ he said. “It’s hard to go from joking around and hanging out with them to telling them we have to get work done.
“As years passed, Herbs taught me how to adapt. I just removed myself from the boys and tried to be real professional about the business. I’ve had great teachers that have accelerated my learning.’’
Walker listed Dettmann, Herbert and Bott.
“Jamil has grown into taking pride in getting things done,’’ Herbert said. “I can tell him that we need to move the indoor facility to the other side of campus and he’ll find a way to get it done.
“You can give him something with no explanation and he gets it done right every time.’’
Moffitt has also seen Walker’s growth.
“Jamil has that connection with the players,’’ Moffitt said. “He has great ideas about leadership and he’s a motivator, too. It’s a great situation to have all three here. They cover the whole spectrum.’’
Herbert still leads by example and sets the tone in the weight room and during conditioning.
“There were days where I’d spend 30 minutes to an hour in Coach Herbs’ office,’’ Moffitt said. “We’d talk about the team, and leadership and what we needed to do. I’d always bounce it off him.’’
Wilson will get a heavy dose of Herbert, Bott and Walker in the weeks ahead.
“Wisconsin does a great job of preparing an athlete, so you never get more than you can chew,’’ Walker said. “We prepare you in the sense where you don’t just get thrown into the fire.’’
In this respect, there’s an orientation period for everyone; especially the first-timers.
“We slow cook them through the summer,’’ Bott said.
As a three-year college starter, Wilson has a different pedigree. And by virtue of his high profile recruitment, the heat has already been turned up.
Herbert can’t wait to get started with him, either.