Every day on the walk from the locker room to the practice field, redshirt freshman Dan Voltz is reminded how big of shoes he is walking into.
"We've had a good tradition here with centers," he said. "It's something I think about every day."
Since 2008, the Badgers have had only three starting centers and John Moffitt, Peter Konz and Travis Frederick all are collecting NFL paychecks after combining for four first-team All-Big Ten honors and two first-team All-American awards.
"It's a tradition I like to continue," said Voltz.
Over the last two seasons, Voltz has done almost everything he could to ensure he would be an impact player from the start. He decided to enroll for spring football last season, getting a full year to study under Frederick. He pushed himself to learn the playbook and said from the onset of this year's spring practices that he wanted to go into the 2013 season as the starter.
"I am just looking at is as a good opportunity for me to prove myself, but that nothing is guaranteed," said Voltz. "Some days I (prove myself) and some days I don't. I just have to be consistent and treat every day the same." While most redshirt freshmen spent the summer adapting to the routine, Voltz spent time during the summer's organized team activities showing he can be a leader in the huddle and in the workouts, as the offensive line had a goal of improving speed and strength.
And considering the amount of transition the offensive line has gone through the last month with three assistant coaches and seeing two incumbent starters go to the NFL, having all five projected starters healthy and working together was critical in terms of development.
"Last year we had a lot of experience guys on the line but this year we have a lot of young guys who haven't played as much," said Voltz. "It was a good opportunity for us to gel together, communicate and get on the same page."
Voltz said the group ran more than it did the previous year under new strength coach Evan Simon, an unwelcomed, but necessary change to get the group better conditioned heading into the season.
"With the tempo offense that we'll run and the way we run the ball, we've got to be in good shape," Voltz said.
It also was critical Voltz to spend ample time working with each of the quarterbacks to perfect the snaps, calls and the cadence. Other than a hiccup on Saturday morning's practice, Voltz's preparation has caused very few snaps on the ground with the first-team offense.
"It's a challenge each day," said Voltz. "You never know who is in there. You've got to be on the same page with every quarterback. It's something we work at every day before practice. We just have to make sure we're clicking."
With no clear-cut backup to Voltz on the roster entering the summer, the Badgers brought in Appleton-native Chris Gill, a senior who spent the last four seniors, including a redshirt season in 2009, prior to graduating.
Able to play center, guard or tackle, Gill has provided depth and a competitor for Voltz.
"He's an experienced player," said Voltz. "He comes in and competes, not acting like he owns the position. He's fighting for it just like I am. It's a good healthy competition to get each other better. There's a lot of new stuff in the offense for both of us, and he's a guy who has been through systems before."