Zagzebski Ready to Lead

The only experienced defensive end returning to the line next season, junior Konrad Zagzebski is looking forward to carrying the momentum he's generating this season into the bowl game, and beyond.

MADISON - The overhaul of Wisconsin's entire front seven will start to take place once the clock hits zero in the 2014 Capital One Bowl. As much as the sting of losing All-American linebacker Chris Borland will be, the Badgers will graduate all three starters on the defensive line as well as its top defensive end reserve in Tyler Dippel.

Konrad Zagzebski has taken notice. It's one of the main reasons why the now-junior from D.C. Everest High has spent the better part of this season preparing to become the defensive line's leader come the spring.

"I want to finish out this season and go into next season with some momentum for myself and for the d-line," said Zagzebski. "We lose a lot of great seniors, and I have some big shoes to fill."

Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer, Dippel and Pat Muldoon will take with them 202 games played and 90 career starts into the NFL. While UW should be able to fill Allen's position with senior nose tackles Bryce Gilbert and Warren Herring, Zagzebski represents the lone experienced player returning at the defensive end position.

In three years, Zagzebski has played in 30 games and four career games, but the majority of that experience has come this season after being plagued with a torn ACL, three shoulder injuries and a meniscus tear in his first few seasons on campus.

But the change to the 3-4, and finally being healthy, has benefited him. Zagzebski has played in every game (starting three) this past season and registered career highs in every category, including tackles (18) and tackles for loss (two).

"Going from a four-man front to a three-man front, in my eyes, really benefits me," said Zagzebski. "I've been able to use my speed and quickness a little more. It's not so much just line up in the gap and play the gap. It's a little bit more slanting and moving around.

"Staying healthy is the key to anything when you are playing at this level. To finally have a season under my belt where I didn't have any surgeries or injuries and help the team any way I can was super beneficial for me."

Zagzebski has been able to overcome the injuries in helps because of his two position coaches. Zagzebski learned his fundamentals and technique from Charlie Partridge, who left for Arkansas last season and is now the head coach of Florida Atlantic. Chad Kauha'aha'a took over for Partridge and has built on his teaching.

"Coach Partridge was a technician and I have the upmost respect for coach Partridge because I learned a lot about the game and life," said Zagzebski. "Coach Chad really teaches you how to use your athleticism, how to move around, when to take chances and when to stay in your gap. He takes the learning to another step."

Next to the offensive line, targeting the defensive line was a high priority for Wisconsin's coaching staff in the 2014 class. The Badgers have secured verbal commitments from three defensive end prospects, including in-state players Billy Hirschfeld (Hartland Arrowhead) and Conor Sheehy (Milwaukee Marquette), securing some playmakers for the future.

In the forefront, however, Zagzebski knows he'll be the figurehead for a group that will need to play at an exceptionally high level to match this year's production.

"We've got to really develop the young guys and develop some depth on the defensive line," Zagzebski said. "We've got to get ready for next year."

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