Youthful Exuberance

One of Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema's recruiting philosophies is to keep the best high school players in the state and contributing to their home university. The result of that has led to a stacked defensive line, a group that has depth, talent and, most importantly, no seniors.

LOS ANGELES – Growing up 60 miles and two years a part, Patrick Butrym and Jordan Kohout were under the impression that the Rose Bowl was the final game of every Wisconsin season.

To a couple young kids growing up in southern Wisconsin, it was a reasonable assumption, seeing as the Badgers had played in and won three Rose Bowls by the time Butrym was 11 years old.

"Growing up, I just assumed Wisconsin always went to the Rose Bowl," Kohout, a native of Waupun, said. "Now that I am here, I realize the amount of hard work it takes day in and day out and the amount of focus it takes to get to a position like that. It definitely means more than just a bowl game. Everybody in the state wants to go."

Thanks to Wisconsin's defensive line, this trip may not be a one-time experience. The Badgers' defensive line, unheralded entering the season for the second-straight season, contains no seniors and only one four-star athlete (Kohout). Still, the defensive line has led a group that has allowed only seven rushing touchdowns all season and only three running backs to gain 100 yards in the last two seasons.

"I love the ways these guys have progressed throughout the year," Butrym, a native of Waukesha, said. "The depth was really question at the beginning of the year, but the group has really matured."

Entering the season, the Badgers two proven commodities were juniors J.J. Watt and Butrym. Watt has been an animal all season, registering 59 tackles and winning the Lott IMPACT award on his way to a first-team All-Big Ten season.

Entering the season with only two starts, Butrym has quietly filled his roll, ranking third in the team in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss in 12 starts, but it was the players next to him that have provided a real boost for Wisconsin.

After being overwhelmed and not getting his footing until the end of his redshirt season, Kohout used a strong off season to start seven games and make 22 tackles, seven of which came in the Michigan State game Oct.2.

"The old saying is, ‘You have to go through hell before you get to heaven' and everything that's worth having, you have to work for because it doesn't come easy," Kohout said. "When you get the chance, it just comes full circle and adds more value and prestige to it."

The Badgers have also seen Platteville's Louis Nzegwu make 44 tackles in 12 starts at the other defensive end position; defensive end David Gilbert (Oakland Park, Fla.) register 20 tackles and have defensive tackles Pat Muldoon (Cincinnati, Ohio) overcome two knee surgeries, four-star defensive tackle Beau Allen play older than a true freshman and Medford walk-on Ethan Hemer see meaningful snaps in all 12 games this season.

As exciting as the depth is, the fact that none of the aforementioned group are seniors is what really brings the excitement.

"It's exciting that all those guys are going to be back," Defensive Line Coach Charlie Partridge said. "As the season wore on, because of the experienced they gained, they really aren't playing like freshmen right now. Sometimes I have to remind myself that they are freshmen, so it's exciting for the future."

A near future that could once again see Wisconsin finishing its season in Pasadena, California.

"Those were special times for the program and for the state," Butrym said. "We take a lot of pride in making the state proud because we know those that don't come to the game will be watching on their TV sets at home. We remember where we were when we watched those games, and want to create similar memories for our fans."

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