Yes, the junior defensive end had one of the best seasons a lineman can have and had every right to skip his senior season and head to the uncharted NFL waters. But if the Pewaukee lineman, who has developed quite the cult following in the state of Wisconsin over the past three years, had stayed for his senior season, the Badgers wouldn't have lost anybody off its strong defensive line.
Even with the departure of Watt, the Badgers have seven returning players that saw quality snaps last season, including senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym who will be the leader of the line this season.
One of two seniors on the line (Louis Nzegwu being the other), Butrym has the most experience, starting all 13 games and tied for second on the team in quarterback hurries, third in sacks and tied for fourth in TFLs last season.
After Thursday's practice, Badger Nation talked with Butrym about Charlie Partridge, the Rose Bowl and moving forward.
Badger Nation: Even those Coach Charlie Partridge's titles have changed within the program, can you talk to me about how the assistant head coach has not changed his style this season compared to last season?
Butrym: Not at all. Hasn't changed at all. He's the same old Partridge, being a technician and teaches us to be fundamentally sound and accountable. He's an intense guy, but he's not a screamer and yeller until he gets on the field. He'll raise his voice there to get his point across. He's an effective coach and we respond to him.
Badger Nation: What's it like being the senior of the group? Talk away Watt leaving, nobody left from last season so there's a familiarity and chemistry already intact with the group. What's it been like the last couple months keeping that going?
Butrym: I just need to be Partridge's voice on the field, which is kind of what I need to do. Other than that, with a year of experience under their belts with Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and Louis Nzegwu starting games and everybody else in the mix contributed last year. I just need to be the voice and be the guy of the group that gets everybody rallied. The same goes with Louis, reminding the guys of the small things when we get tired and keep people going forward.
Badger Nation: Do you try to speak up like J.J. did or do you just have to be yourself?
Butrym: You need to be yourself, no question about it. J.J. and I got along really well, but we have different personalities. I need to lead with my personality because if I didn't, people won't respect me. If you want to be respected as a leader, you have to be yourself. Obviously when you first come back, the team sorts itself out and you start to develop that personality, which we are still doing. We have only been together for four months, so everybody starts acclimating to each other again and develop a different kind of groove. It's really the same stuff, but a different year.
Badger Nation: So you have not started tweeting?
Butrym: I do have a Twitter, but I don't tweet. I just follow people (laughing).
Badger Nation: Being a Wisconsin guy like J.J. and seeing how emotional he was after the Rose Bowl, did his getting teary eyed at the podium reflect what all you guys were feeling in the locker room?
Butrym: That's how we all were in the locker room. We were all teary eyed because it was a tough pill to swallow. Man, it was so disappointing and … sometimes it's just hard to put my finger on why we weren't able to put it away. We couldn't pull it off and sometimes I get a loss for words when I talk about it. Sometimes I really feel I don't know what to say about the game. It was so disappointing because it was such a golden opportunity. We were at the Rose Bowl and we didn't play our best game. We didn't play our best game.
Badger Nation: The theme going into the Rose Bowl season was to not make the mistakes that cost you in the three games the year before. Is the theme going into this year to make up for the Rose Bowl?
Butrym: Honestly, I don't even know what the motivation is going to be. We're in April. We're in spring ball and I think right now the focus is becoming a better team during spring ball. Obviously the goal is the fall, but we need to respect the process and take care of today. This is a great opportunity to get better and you can let these days go by you.
Badger Nation: Talking about today and looking at the defensive line, Partridge says to be successful in this conference you need a seven or an eight-man front. How deep can you guys go this year, especially with guys like Brendan Kelly finally getting healthy?
Butrym: It's tough for me to answer that because we have so many guys. The five defensive tackles are back. I think you can put any of us in and there won't be a drop off. I think at defensive end, you can have a two-deep and not have a drop off. I think we are very solid, but we need to continue to work because that stuff doesn't automatically translate into the fall.
Badger Nation: How have you grown through winter conditioning and four weeks of spring ball? Have you dropped some weight and added some muscle?
Butrym: Well, I kind of stayed the same weight. I like the range that I am at but as far as the weight room and football goes, just the explosion from the floor. I did a lot of platform stuff and lower body stuff to get stronger and carry that over to the field. We don't come here to lift weights. We come here to play football. Using those tools, I want to be a more explosive player that constantly plays hard all the time. I'll use J.J. as an example (we just can't get rid of him). He just played so hard and made a lot of plays off talent, but he made a lot of plays off effort. All great players do that. The more I realize that, and I am not saying that I don't play hard, but I think if you can pick it up an extra notch and swipe a guys legs out or dive at him in the backfield, I think that will help the team a lot.
Badger Nation: You've been around these defensive line guys quite a bit. Who do you think has made the biggest strides in your eyes?
Butrym: I really like the progression from the defensive tackles – Allen, Hemer and Kohout. Those guys are solid, they work hard and they honestly push me to be a better player and there's no question about it. If I get complacent, I could definitely lose my job to one those guys.
Badger Nation: At last year's spring game, a couple seniors said that it was the worst practice of the spring, and that guys didn't have a lot of energy and the momentum started to end. As a senior now, how do you make sure the last week of practice is your best week and the momentum continues to increase going into summer workouts?
Butrym: You just need to constantly remind guys that just because we had success last year doesn't mean we're going to have success this year. You need to remind them to do the little things right and that everyday matters, everyday matters, everyday matters. You need to constantly harp on them because the years that you don't have success, you've got to learn from those years. From the times you do have success, you've got to learn from that experience. I've been around long enough and some of those young guys don't have that experience, so you have to remind, remind, remind them of that.