Aug. 29, 2014BY MIKE LUCAS
-- LSU freshman tailback Leonard Fournette was recruited by nearly everyone. He had well over 100 scholarship offers. Wisconsin linebacker Marcus Trotter
was basically recruited by nobody. A few schools offered him tenders but only to lure his twin brother, Michael.
On Saturday, the polar opposites of the recruiting world -- Fournette, a consensus five-star prospect; and Marcus Trotter
, a walk-on -- will likely cross paths more than once when the Tigers and the Badgers square off in Houston.
“It’s exciting to go against someone that good,” Trotter said, “and so highly recruited.”
In the end, Fournette picked LSU over Alabama.
In the end, Marcus Trotter
said, “I got an offer from Indiana. But it was only because of Michael. They wanted him to come so they offered me.”
Northern Iowa and Wofford were also interested. Same deal.
“It was mostly because of Michael -- just being honest,” Marcus said. “They knew that we wanted to be a package deal and, so, they knew they had to offer me.”Michael Trotter
accepted Wisconsin’s offer; Marcus Trotter
accepted his fate.
“I knew I’d be a walk-on somewhere,” he said. “It kind of humbled me.”
So has the notion that he will be playing against one of the teams that he admired from afar.
“Growing up watching Alabama and LSU and all of those big-time schools,” said Trotter, who grew up in Racine, “If you would have told me in the fifth or sixth grade that I would play them, I would have never believed it in my life. We all have our different stories.”
None has been bigger than the anticipated college debut of Fournette.
“I’ve looked at his (high school) highlights because you want to see what kind of a running back he is,” Trotter said. “Going into any game you watch so much film that you get to know who you’re playing against to the point where you also feel like you know the person.”
So what has Trotter seen out of the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Fournette?
“Big back, fast, real quick, total package,” said Trotter, who along with his brother, played at Milwaukee Marquette High School. “Knowing that, you can have an idea on how you’re going to tackle and approach him. YouTube his name and there are hundreds of videos.”
Fournette, who will wear jersey No. 7 with the Tigers, rewrote the record book at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. He was twice named the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Louisiana while collecting 7,619 rushing yards and 88 touchdowns in his career.
Among his YouTube highlights: He rushed for 255 yards in a nationally-televised game on ESPN. In another game, he threw a scoring pass out of a Wildcat formation and caught a 93-yard touchdown pass. In yet another game, he lined up as a slot receiver and caught seven passes for 242 yards.
Fournette is being touted as the best running back to ever come out of the state, the Peyton Manning of running backs, if you will, in a state that has produced Marshall Faulk, Kevin Faulk, Warrick Dunn, Matt Forte, Dalton Hilliard, Joe Delaney and many others.
And, yet, Fournette may not even start Saturday. He has two seniors ahead of him.
Trotter says the Tigers play offense like Wisconsin and Iowa.
“It’s hard-nosed football, the way football is supposed to be played, in the trenches,” he said.
It stands to reason that the best preparation for LSU has been practicing against the UW offense, particularly tackling Melvin Gordon
and Corey Clement
. “If you can tackle those guys on a daily basis then you should be fine with any running back in the country,” Trotter said
At some point in the opener, Trotter is planning on running into Fournette.
“We make our defensive line do all the dirty work and we float behind or go front-side gap and make the play,” he said. “In every game, every scrimmage, there’s going to be a time where I’m going to be one-on-one with the running back.”
And he will introduce himself to the phenom.
“It’s going to be physical,” he promised, “and that’s what Wisconsin is all about.”
Nobody ever likes having their toughness questioned.
But in this case, UW wide receiver Reggie Love
had some questions about his own toughness.
Did that mean he questioned whether he was good enough to play in the Big Ten?
“No, I don’t think I ever questioned that,” he said. “But I questioned my toughness and my willingness to be the best player I could be. I questioned that. But I think I’m starting to answer that.”
Love, a redshirted sophomore out of Boynton Beach, Florida, was one of the most pleasant developments in the preseason training camp. He has elevated his play to such a degree that he has earned a starting assignment; quite a feat, considering how far he has come. How did he do it?
“Just being resilient, overcoming adversity,” he said. “I want to be a new person. Everything that happened in the past, I’m going to leave in the past. I just want a fresh start. A lot of things happened last year; a lot of mistakes were made. But I learned from that and it made me a more mature person.”
As a true freshman, Love saw limited playing time in seven games and had one catch. Last season, he was injured in training camp and took a redshirt. At the time, he wasn’t sure if it was for better or worse, since he was a holdover and the Badgers were in transition with a new coaching staff.
“After my injury, I definitely thought that I was going to drop down on the depth chart, get lost and fall flat off the radar,” said Love. “I thought the redshirt was going to really hurt me. All the other guys were getting better and growing while I was stuck in the same position (inactive on game days).
“But it definitely helped me more than I thought it would. I got to learn the game a little bit more and learn the playbook. I know more about the positions than I did before, so it was a good thing. I learned a ton. Coach (Chris) Beatty would be the first one to tell you that.”
But what about his toughness? Reggie Love
is not tough enough? Says who? Reggie Love
“That’s a real tough thing to hear -- to hear myself saying it,” he confided. “But you have to be real with yourself and I wasn’t being as tough as I can be. I think toughness for a football player is being able to bounce back from anything and being able to play every play with great effort.”
Love had to be tough to even be in a position to challenge his own football toughness. “There were a lot of things that I had to overcome (growing up),” he said. “I came from a poor background but I’m not going to dwell on that. I’ve been through a lot. Toughness has gotten me through it.”
And now the former high school basketball standout would like to pronounce himself here to stay. “I came in as a raw football player with a lot to prove and with a lot to learn,” he said. “I feel like I’m still proving people wrong and I’m still learning things every day.”
Reliable. Dependable. Consistent. Steadfast. Unswerving. Trustworthy.
These are all synonyms for Konrad Zagzebski
in Dave Aranda’s book.
Aranda, the UW defensive coordinator, took it a couple of steps further.
“Heart and soul,” he labeled Zagzebski, a fifth-year senior from Weston.
Zagzebski is the quintessential role player. His role is to tie up blockers as a defensive lineman.
“Block the blockers” is how Aranda likes to term it.
If Zagzebski does his job, the linebackers can do theirs; that is, run to the ball.
Even though he once starred as a linebacker at D.C. Everest High School, he was realistic about his future.
“I kind of come in with the idea that they would be moving me to the D-line,” said Zagzebski, who has played in 30 games with four career starts, “so I knew what I was getting myself into before I got here, which was good. I’m happy with how everything has turned out.
“You have your ups and downs throughout your career. But you have your teammates, you have your family and you have your coaches supporting you. They’re always there to push you and help you when times get tough. Overall, I don’t think I would do anything differently.”
Maybe he could have done a few things better, though. “I think when I was younger I could have taken things more seriously and been more mature at that 18-year-old level,” he said. “I wanted to come in and play right away; I wanted to help the team win right away.”
But things don’t always go according to the plan for a variety of reasons. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way with injuries and all the depth we had on the D-line,” he said. “But I turned that into a positive; I got healthy and learned from those upperclassmen. I took a lot of great things from them.”
With such heavy graduation losses along the defensive line, Zagzebski’s role has broadened. “I feel like I’m a leader in the front seven,” he said. “But it’s time to make plays and it’s time to produce and do all of those things that I’ve always wanted to do since coming here.”
And there was never any doubt where Zagzebski was going to play his college football. “I’m from Wisconsin, born and raised here,” he said with the conviction that many of his fellow Cheeseheads have for this program. “I’ve always watched the Badgers growing up and I can truly say that I bleed red.”
Zagzebski hasn’t stopped growing. He has added 10 pounds since last year and he’s up to 275. That’s not overly big unless you consider his starting point. “I came in at 210 or 215,” he said, throwing down a protein drink after practice to make sure that he can sustain the weight. “Part of the process.”
The best part may be just ahead. “I’m stronger,” Zagzebski said, “and I feel better prepared with the playbook. I’m definitely going to be a better player this year. We lost a lot of great senior starters; people who produced a lot on the field. The next crew has got to step up and fill those gaps.”
So how much has Zagzebski thought about those his gaps and blocking the blockers against LSU? “I’m a totally visual person,” he said. “I see everything through plays and all the X’s and O’s and I lay awake all the time thinking about making those plays.”
So others can make theirs.