Shouldering the Load

His friends called him 'Big Rob' for a reason, as Rob Havenstein came to campus a shocking 380 pounds. Three years later and 30-pounds smaller, the redshirt sophomore has cemented himself as Wisconsin's tackle of the future.

MADISON - As he began finally preparations for his move to the Midwest to begin his collegiate career, offensive lineman Rob Havenstein went through his usual workout routine at his Maryland-based gym. Before leaving, a quick visit to the scale listed him at exactly 350 pounds, a perfect size, he thought, for making an impact on Wisconsin's offensive line.

When he stepped on the digital scale at Wisconsin, Havenstein's weight instead read 380 pounds, a 30-pound culture shock.

"It turned out my scale only went up to 350 pounds," said Havenstein. "I did not see that coming."

That wakeup call served as his starting point, especially since he has been listening to strength coach Ben Herbert and his staff. He was put on a stricter diet, more cardio work and he wasn't pushed, especially with the Badgers having depth at right tackle.

"I've just listened to everyone above me," said Havenstein. "They've had me on a really good plan and I've followed that plan."

Havenstein's diligence has been rewarded exponentially. Even after missing all of spring following offseason shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum suffered in late November, Havenstein stepped right into the mix at The Opening of camp and will make his second career start when No.12 Wisconsin hosts Northern Iowa in Saturday's season opener.

"He's been to me the (biggest) surprise of fall camp, especially on the o-line," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said of Havenstein. "I didn't know where he was going to be. It's been so long since he's played. He jumped right in there. He only had a half summer of conditioning because he wasn't cleared until after July 1 … Physically he has a lot of tools and mentally he is locked in."

As Havenstein watched from the sidelines during spring, he picked up new techniques, studying the playbook assignments and focused on his alignments to have more comfort with the position, knowing that he wouldn't have first-round pick Kevin Zeitler to rely on this season.

Now more mobile, trim and accountable, not to mention having a better handle on his 6-8, 342-pound frame, Havenstein has played like a season veteran instead of a redshirt sophomore about to make his second start when No.12 Wisconsin hosts Northern Iowa Saturday at Camp Randall.

"You can't see around him," Bielema said. "If you are a defensive lineman and you are bull rushing, you can't see around Robby. That's a problem. You don't know where the running back is."

Everybody in Havenstein's family is big or athletic. His dad, Gary, is 6-6. His twin brother, Jeff, is also 6-8 and plays Division I basketball at Longwood University in Virginia while his older sister, Holly, is 6-2 and just graduated from Colgate after playing four years of basketball.

In addition to football, Rob also played basketball and La Crosse at Linganore High, and played each sport with an unbridled aggression.

"Robby is a mean kid," Bielema said with a smile. "He definitely knows how to play the game. He plays the game very, very hard. He's got a little personality to him. From where he is at right now is pretty impressive and exciting."

Losing 60 percent of its starters from the year before, Wisconsin's offensive line has experienced the biggest makeover on the team. Since arriving on campus, few players have gone through a bigger change than Havenstein. How ironic that th new group wants to keep the same tradition of what Wisconsin is known for: smash-mouth football.

"I'm excited for the opportunity to compete with these guys," said Havenstein. "I've taken a little bit more charge of my game, so I'm anxious to prove myself along with the other starters."

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