In less than a year, Trotter has gone from the ‘unknown' to the ‘know-it-all.'
"I get a lot of grief from the guys because we're in the meeting room and I trying to point things out like corrections, but they tell me to shut up because I haven't played a game yet," Trotter said laughing. "That's the best thing about me though is that I came in wanting to prove myself."
The proof is on the paper. When Wisconsin released its two-deep depth chart in preparation for the 2011 season opener in eight days against UNLV, Trotter, despite missing two weeks of practice time, has impressed the coaching staff enough over the last year that he will back up Chris Borland at the middle linebacker position.
"It says a lot about the strides he's made," said co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge said. "He made great improvement in the spring and a testament to how hard he's worked in the film room between all the practices he has missed."
It's a huge opportunity for Trotter, who has been close to proving his worth a number of times. He was so close to earning a full scholarship out of Milwaukee Marquette high school from Wisconsin, but had to settle for a preferred walk-on opportunity with the Badgers because of the shortage of scholarships.
Trotter was close to being started at fullback, but convinced head coach Bret Bielema to let him prove himself at linebacker before making him switch. And then after a solid spring, Trotter was close to proving himself again until a mild hamstring strain sidelined him for 17 full practices. But for a guy that plays with a chip on his shoulder, being close only pushes him farther.
"I thrive on that, even though I was down when I first got my injury," Trotter said. "Whatever I could do, I tried to get better."
What Trotter did was continue to add to the ever-increase knowledge he's experience this year in the program. In the spring, Trotter worked primarily with the first-team defense at the middle linebacker position due to the injuries of Ethan Armstrong and Borland. After rarely running his team's own defense during the fall of his redshirt year, Trotter was thrown right in with the first-team defense at the onset of spring camp.
"I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew that I was going to perform," said Trotter, who made six tackles and registered a forced fumble in the spring game. "If I messed up, I was going to work as hard as I could. I was fortunate that I learned the system, even though I was messing up pretty good that first week."
Trotter has built his body into a linebacker, transforming himself from an undersized 213-pound push over to a 235-pound confident football player. No longer was he getting pushed around, could maintain his assignments and match the physicality of the older players on the field. When he was injured and not jogging as part of his rehabilitation, Trotter was standing on the sidelines and watching intently, making sure to take advantage of those precious mental reps.
"As a mike linebacker, you need to know what all the calls are and all the adjustments are," Trotter said. "It's funny seeing other guys mess up so bad. I don't mess up like them when I come back because I learned what they did wrong. When you learn a new defense, a guy might mess up where the coach loses faith in him, but I wasn't out playing and he didn't lose faith in me when I go out there and show what I've learned."
Trotter was cleared late last week and has been slowly eased back into his role at middle linebacker, doing more individual and scout team work than actual 7-on-7 or team competition. He proclaims he'll be ready by the opener eight days away against UNLV.
After he completes his second year as a walk-on, Trotter will be on scholarship for the final three years of his UW career, a deal he agreed on with Bielema on signing day. But even when he's awarded that scholarship, don't expect Trotter to smooth out the chip on his shoulder. After all, it's taken him this far already.
"I was young and I knew I was athletic as the other guys, but I knew I was going to put in the work and going to make plays," Trotter said. "A scholarship, now or next year, won't change how I play football."