December 7, 2010

Summer paved way for success

MADISON - The ramp leading toward Camp Randall stadium from the UW locker room isn't steep. It's inclined, but it's not steep.

But every single day the Badgers walk up that approximately 40-yard hallway, wide enough to drive a small sedan through, it's symbolic. It's symbolic because it represents the hill the Badgers need to climb each and every year.

In the game of football, cliché's almost become a mirror of themselves. Most questions asked from reporters are clichéd and most answers chirped back can be classified as cliché.

So the fact the Badgers walk up a grade, a small one at that, every single day and look up just to see a mural of the Rose Bowl Game logo with the phrase 'The road to the Rose Bowl begins here,' epitomizes what it means to be a Big Ten football player.

The first and most important goal should be to reach the pinnacle of your league. Like the uphill climb suggests, it's not always going to be easy, but all the hard work, sweat and anguish put in behind the scenes becomes worth it when it all clicks.

That, in essence, is the story of the 2010 Badgers.

"I honestly felt that after the Miami game, after the performance we put on and the way we handled the bowl game prep I thought we had a great chance," senior middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean said following the official announcement that UW would play in the Rose Bowl game. "We went into workouts and the way people were attacking workouts and the way the team was bonding…we just attacked the workouts. Literally attacked them."

Enter Ben Herbert, strength and conditioning extraordinaire.

Here's a guy that has played in the Badger program, has tasted what it feels like to be a part of a successful team, knows what kind of work ethic is needed to reach the summit and what it means to have brotherly competition.

He's a guy that demands the most out of his players when it's his time with them. Failure is simply forbidden.

"We'd have competition between two groups and he would totally mix them up between positions," UW senior left tackle Gabe Carimi said. "One group will not quit until complete failure. We had a competition going up and down the stadium steps. When unmotivated people could only do eight, we wound up doing about 16-20. People would fail at eight, but we would not stop.

"Everyone just had that mentality never to fail."

Picture this….it's 95 degrees in the middle of a wet and humid Wisconsin summer. Instead of sitting back with a cold beverage and enjoying some time surrounded by central air you are out flipping burdensome and awkward tractor tires, or repeatedly sprinting up and down stadium stairs or trying to run while dragging inordinate amount of weights behind you.

Through all the sweat, pain and the fight against the human's natural reaction to slow, these Badgers wanted more.

"It was kind of counterproductive because we were kind of over-killing our bodies," Carimi said. "But everyone has that mentality. Herbs always would say that we're just going to bang because we are going to keep on competing.

"We're competitors."

According to several veteran players, summer conditioning in 2010 was the most focused it's been since they've been in the program. Young guys bought into what was being said, veterans continued to mold the foundation blueprinted from Badgers of the past and the coaches demanded excellence.

When Ohio State and Iowa rolled around in back-to-back weekends earlier this season during a critical stretch in the Big Ten race, it was nothing compared to the trials and tribulations felt throughout the summer, when the only thing occurring on the gridiron was sprints, lifts and determination.

"That's a special part of the program," senior quarterback Scott Tolzien said. "Just watching guys attack their workouts leaders emerged and that's exactly what you need. Not everybody needs to be a talker, but everybody does need to work. As a whole we had that mentality."

Bret Bielema has a policy at the end of practice, a rather unpopular policy, which works. For every stupid penalty or mistake a player makes in practice, they'll have 100 yards of log rolls to fess up to.

It's a daunting punishment for a natural part of the game, because no matter how much you preach and drive players toward perfection, there is no such thing. Players will make mistakes. Coaches will make mistakes. There is no such thing as perfection in the game of football.

There is, however, the push for that. And that is something that is neat to see parlayed after weeks and weeks of grueling and harsh summer conditioning.

"Those log rolls are for real," senior safety Jay Valai said. "It may not even be a pass interference but if Coach B thinks it's a pass interference we had to roll for it. One thing Coach B does is he holds us down. For him doing that is like being a parent. You work your kid every once in a while to get them better in the future. He whooped us good enough to get us to be the lowest penalized team in college football.

"It's helped us a lot."

It helped UW sustain an early season loss at Michigan State. It helped an offensive line churn out three running backs with at least 800 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. It helped churn out a championship in Madison - the first in 11 years - and put Badger football back on the national map.

It didn't start anytime in October. That championship run started after the Champs Sports Bowl celebration fizzled out.

"I think that game kind of got us a little momentum going into this season," Lance Kendricks said. "The off-season, we kind of built momentum as we went along. Guys worked harder and bought more and more into the system. I think that led into a great season for us up until now."

John Moffitt, a loquacious character if there's ever been one on the football team, knows that a lack of focus could easily cramp a season once loaded with promise into one loaded with despair.

Just look back to 2008, one painted with a big 7-6 stigma of disappointment and failure.

There was no chance a lack of focus on that level, with such a promising team coming back, was going to rear its ugly head again.

Not based on what he saw in summer conditioning.

"Guys numbers and weights just rocketed," Moffitt said alluding to the proficiency of focus. "I remember being here this summer, and this is the same for everybody on the O-line, I said, 'Coach (Brian) Bott, by the time summer is over I want to squat 600 pounds.' I was probably at 500, maybe 520. I think my last set in the summer was 625.

"When you do what they say it works out. That's what it's all about."

There's been so much talk surrounding the Badger program recently circling around the foundation former players - guys like Chris Maragos, Jaevery McFadden and O'Brien Schofield - laid. It was essentially the blueprint needed to make a title run in 2010. The work ethic, the determination and the sheer will to win is something that is unmatched.

It's also something that will be written about for a number of years after this. If last season's Badger seniors laid the blueprint, this years senior class started pouring the cement.

With as much young talent as this team has stockpiled, there's no reason to believe the next level can't be reached.

If nothing else, that little ramp that's climbed every day, the one with the roses painted above the doorway, will serve as a constant reminder of what it takes to reach the hallowed grounds of Pasadena.

"We know with the seniors we have that we've endured hard work and set great examples for them," Lance Kendricks said in reference to younger players. "I think they really bought into it. It's really a stamp of what the guys did last year and what we've done this year."

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