Recouping his Star Power

Although he was the state's top in-state recruit two years ago, linebacker Jake Keefer knew that his body and his knowledge wasn't at the proper level to compete in the Big Ten. After his redshirt season, Keefer has his sights set on the field.

MADISON - He was the top recruit in the state of Wisconsin in the Class ofyear 2011, but Jake Keefer knew he wasn't the top player amongst the linebackers at the University of Wisconsin. In his eyes, he went from a four-star recruit to a two-star recruit, and needed to build his body back up to par.

So Keefer went into redshirt mode to build his body and build his knowledge of the game. On Thursday, he told Badger Nation that the move has paid off so far.

Tell me a little about your winter conditioning, knowing that you would have a chance to compete for the first time this upcoming spring? Talk about the approach of getting into shape?

Keefer: I would say it was huge, obviously, getting ready for spring. Coach Herb is ridiculous. He definitely gets your body right and ready. I have a big opportunity to get some reps this spring, so it was huge to get my body right and healthy. I am feeling really good so far.

It's been a ninth month product for you to transform your body and start preparing for your career. When you first started with Herb, taking me through the months of preparing and grinding through the workouts?

Keefer: Coming in here, you have no idea what to expect. Coach Herb has some intense stuff, but I have seen my body transform over the last couple months along with my teammates. You go back home and people notice that you are getting bigger. He definitely gets us ready, so hats off to Herb.

How has your body changed from when you came in at in June to where you are now?

Keefer: I'd say I've developed my lower body strength. I feel like that's where my biggest growth has been. I feel like I can produce more of an explosion than I could in the fall running on the scout team against the No.1s. You are trying to box them out, but you get knocked back a little bit. I feel like over the winter and developing over the season my strength and learning things, I feel like I have better technique and I feel a lot more comfortable and confident.

How much weight have you put on and how much of a struggle was it to put that weight on?

Keefer: I'd say I've gained about 10 pounds and I've lost quite a bit of fat. I feel like I've gained speed, so that's been huge. The biggest thing for me at least is I like to play linebacker, so I don't want to gain so much weight that they move me somewhere else. Really, whatever I can do to help the team I'll do.

How did you approach scout team work last year knowing that you were going to redshirt?

Keefer: At first it's a little tough because you have been used to playing. You just have to embrace your opportunity and take it as, ‘I'm going to get better and do what's best for the team.' For me, that was getting the boys ready. I feel like I have gotten a lot better along with the other freshman linebackers working against some of the best linemen in the country every day in practice. I think that's helped us technique wise and our mentality.

I would imagine it's kind of been a struggle because you have gone through three linebacker coaches since you have committed. Talk about how that transition has gone for you and losing a guy like Dave Huxtable, who was such a knowledgeable guy?

Keefer: Obviously Hux is an unbelievable coach and I learned a lot from him. He got another opportunity, but the way I look at is I learned things from the way he coached, his terminology and apply that to what Coach Buh is teaching us. You can learn more because you are getting a little bit of everything. So it broadens your knowledge of football, which has helped me a lot. It gives you different perspectives of understanding the game.

What did Coach Hux give you that you still carry with you?

Keefer: I'd say just trying to be a hard-nosed player. Just to play fast, don't think and juts go for it. That's the big thing. There's a lot of things that I can't pinpoint just one.

Talk about the hire of Andy Buh. How much did you know about him coming in and what was the first meeting like?

Keefer: It's been going great right now. He's a coach that cares about all the linebackers, and that's great that you have a coach that really cares about you. It's obviously that he's very knowledge about the game and we have a lot to learn from him. I am just trying to soak up everything he has to tell us and use that to get better.

Buh said he's been trying to rotate you to different positions in the lineup to get you and your other linebackers more reps. Where have you been working and where is the comfort level with where you are working?

Keefer: I've started out at the mike linebacker position and at the start of spring, they moved me over to outside linebacker. I wasn't really expecting that, but it's a blessing in disguise, I think. You get to learn a whole new position and it's been tough trying to get all your fits and everything you need to know. I think it's been a really helpful thing for me to help me understand the defense as a whole. I have a long way to go, so this spring is huge from a learning standpoint.

Does it help having Mike Taylor on the sidelines because not only is he not practice, which gives you more reps, but he's able to give you some instant feedback?

Keefer: Whenever I am not in, I trying to stand right by him. He's been in this defense for four years, so he's definitely a big resource I am trying to take advantage of. I stand next to him, ask him what we are doing here and he talks me through it. He's been a good leader for the whole defense, not just the linebackers.

What's your goal this spring moving forward into summer? What's the big thing you want to accomplish these next three weeks?

Keefer: The biggest thing right now is to get better every day but a more distant goal is to get on the field. My number one goal that spring game is to be on the field, try to showcase myself and make some plays. I want to help this team win.

Some guys who come in with the notoriety and star ranking that you had in high school feel pressure to live up to that. Do you feel any pressure to live up to that level and why?

Keefer: Nah, I think you want to achieve your highest. Rankings are great and all, but they don't mean anything when you get here. Everybody is on the same playing field when you get in. I just got to keep working my butt off, take advantage of every opportunity and not take any days off. I am a two star player right now, so I have to get on the field to maybe jump up to a two-and-a-half star.

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