The bigger focus on Monday was who will be playing safety opposite Dezmen Southward when the August 31 season opener arrives. Using a variety of safety combinations, Wisconsin lined up Southward with redshirt freshman Leo Musso, Musso with redshirt freshman Nate Hammon, and redshirt sophomore Michael Cupoto with redshirt junior Jeffrey Lewis.
Musso was given the most reps since he played in two different safety combinations, and Andersen seemed more than pleased with the effort the former Waunakee athlete put forth this summer to be ready for the first day of camp.
"I would say the number one thing is Leo Musso's athleticism," Andersen said. "He runs, he's instinctive, he's a well-rounded athlete in the weight room and in what he does on the field. His quickness and speed shows. He has the smarts to get back there and he's a tough, physical kid. Those are all the things a safety has to be able to do."
Musso, a 5-foot-10, 195-pounder from Waunakee, originally was invited to Wisconsin as a preferred walk-on but was offered a scholarship by Bret Bielema in January 2012, a week before national signing day. He picked Wisconsin over offers from Northern Illinois and Pittsburgh.
Musso rushed for 5,531 yards and 87 touchdowns while at Waunakee and was named first-team all-state by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association and the Associated Press. He was brought to Wisconsin labeled as an ‘athlete,' meaning the coaches were going to see how he developed before putting him in a position group. Now Musso has found a home and is one of a handful of players battling for a starting spot.
"As you know, we're going to look at four or five kids in that spot, but I think right now Musso seemed to do a good job this summer with what we're looking for," said Andersen. "He's proven himself mentally and that's been encouraging since day one."
While Musso and the veteran Southward both strong candidates for safety, it's Caputo who may have two different roles on defense this fall. Andersen mentioned how Caputo could be used in several different packages, possibly as a linebacker or in three safety scenarios.
"Michael Caputo can mentally handle playing at either safety or linebacker, which is great," said Andersen. "The safety position is kind of the quarterback of the defense. If you understand safety then it's much simpler to move up and understand the assignments of the F-linebacker or the B-linebacker, because you have to know what that guy is doing to play safety.
"In different packages he may play different roles. He may be a down guy, an outside backer or at safety. He will have to know a lot, but he can handle it mentally. Caputo's a smart young man and you all know he has a tremendous want to."
With Experience comes Leadership
With 23 seniors on this year's roster, Wisconsin has plenty of leaders to choose from, but those who have started to stand out from above the rest have battled to get to where they stand today.
Fifth-year senior Ethan Hemer went from a walk-on to a starter at the defensive end. Sixth-year senior Brendan Kelly suffered from a season-ending injury early in his freshman season, redshirted in his third year because of ongoing injuries and is now back on the field as an outside linebacker. Sixth-year Curt Phillips, who has been forced to overcome three ACL surgeries is back fighting for the quarterback spot.
"Hemer, BK and Phillips, are a few who have been around for a while, in fact a couple of them are in there seventh or eighth year," joked Andersen. "It's awesome and it's invaluable. Hemer got up in front of the team and told them his story, from battling through the walk-on situation to just being a great team player and getting a scholarship when the opportunity came.
"Each one of those kids will get the opportunity to tell their stories to the young players. It does matter and it's big part of it. Senior leadership is great. Those young men have been through a little bit more than others—fighting through injuries and just being around for a long period of time. It's very valuable."
A Long Awaited Scholarship
With scholarship players leaving the program in the offseason, opening up opportunities for other players, Andersen and the other coaches awarded senior linebacker Nick Hill a scholarship during Sunday's team meeting.
Hill is entering his last season with Badgers and is on schedule to graduate this December. It hasn't been an easy road for him after initially getting kicked off the team for an off-campus incident and battling through knee injuries in 2010 and 2011, but final got the opportunity to contribute in two games last season.
"Nick has put in all kinds of time," said Andersen. "He's almost graduated, and he's gone through some ups and downs in this program. Those are the best days when you have an opportunity to give a young man a scholarship. He's worked so hard and battled like crazy. He has done everything we asked him to do. We had a spot and we took advantage of it.
"He's tremendously athletic. The problem with Hill is being out there consistently on the field. He's had some injuries, but he's fought through them all so we will see where he goes in the outside linebacker position. It's a tremendous battle out there to see whose going to lock down the first four spots. We've got to be two deep across the whole defensive front. He will battle like crazy and also compete at special teams hard."
Extra Points: True freshman offensive lineman Matt Miller (head), junior defensive back Isaiah Williams (unknown) and junior cornerback Devin Gaulden (knee) were all left off the 105-man roster because they weren't 100 percent healthy … True freshman cornerback Keelon Brookins practiced after being limited in the spring after recovering from ACL surgery … Derek Watt took reps at tailback and Andersen said he plans to give the fullback some carries after having no carries last season.