BadgerNation: When you look back at the last four years heading into your senior year, does it feel like it has gone by really quick?
Jake Keefer: Oh for sure. It feels just like yesterday I was a naïve freshman just coming in not knowing what was going on, but it’s been a blast. I have so many great memories and looking to build on that this year.
BN: You’ve been one of those players who has fallen through the cracks a little bit because each coaching staff has viewed you differently and you’ve bounced around. How has that made you a better player or how has that hindered your development?
JK: I started out at middle linebacker and was developing there. We had some really good linebackers at the time and the coaches moved me to defensive end to take advantage of my quickness. Somebody got injured at nose tackle my freshman year and I was thrown in there. I’ve been there ever since, but now that we’re playing the 3-4 I’m on the end.
I think it proves that you have to be resilient. I don’t know if it’s helped or hurt me because I don’t know what would have been different. All I know is that whatever position I was in I had to make the best of it. I always pride myself on coming in and working as hard as I can. If you would have told me in the beginning as a freshman I would have been playing nose or an interior lineman, I would have told you ‘yeah right.’ But whatever I can do to help the team has pretty much been my mindset since I’ve been here.
BN: How much have you had to alter your body as you’ve gone through each of these big changes?
JK: I’ve gained about 50 pounds since I’ve been in college, so that’s just tough for your body to get used to it. It’s been like a roller coaster having to gain the weight, having to lose it and then gain it back again. It’s been nice the last few months to just be at a set point where I can get comfortable with my body and my technique.
BN: Have you found your niche? Is that finally the position for you?
JK: Well it’s the position for me right now and for this team, and I am so excited to not only have a home but be a leader on the defensive line and the defense. That’s my goal to affect the team, be a positive role model and work my tail on the field.
BN: For the most part, do you feel the defense did good work throughout the spring?
JK: I think there’s a lot of new pieces, but what’s been nice having the same defense is the communication. That’s helped us a lot. We’re communicating well with calls, we’re familiar with new installs and that’s been huge to keep us all on the same page. We know what our job is to execute to the point where there’s not indecision. Guys can just cut it loose, and that’s been nice for a lot of guys. A lot of guys are starting to not worry about making mistakes.
BN: You and James Adeyanju are the two seniors of the group. What has that been like this spring?
JK: It’s been a blast for me because growing up I was a leader in high school. Most guys here were leaders, so it’s kind of cool to transfer that on to the big stage. I would like to emerge into that leadership role.
BN: What has been the carryover from Chad Kauha’aha’a to Inoke Breckterfield on the defensive line?
JK: It’s the same defense but it’s been great to have another set of eyes on it. We’ve learned a lot of things from Coach Chad and now we get to learn even new things from Coach Nokes and blending those things together. It’s the same defense but it’s been a blast for me to learn from him and work from him. He’s a high motor guy and it’s been a pleasure to have him around. The d-line have been very happy.
BN: What is the defensive end rotation right now in your opinion? How deep can this group go?
JK: It’s pretty much wide open right now. We’ve had some really good reps out of Alec James. He’s been stepping up. Billy Hirschfeld has been working hard along with Jeremy Patterson. A lot of the young guys, like Zander Neuville, have got an opportunity where they probably didn’t get one last year, so it’s been nice to see them stepping up and to see what it’s like to get on the field. The only way they’re going to get better is working at it, myself included. It’s pretty much wide open. We’re going to need everybody because at defensive line we’re rotating and need to be as deep as possible.
BN: Was this spring your best camp since you’ve arrived?
JK: Yes. It’s nice to be comfortable having been in the defense for two years, so I would say things are looking good. I’m excited for what’s to come.
BN: What do you need to do between now and the start of fall camp to put yourself in position to play a lot of reps for this team?
JK: I’d say perfect the craft. That’s what spring ball is all about. It’s about getting your technique right and using that as a springboard into the summer. We’re going to be working at it all summer and spring gives you the motivation to know what you need to do to really fine tune it in the summer to hopefully beat Alabama. It’s a progression. We don’t have to play tomorrow, but there’s definitely a sense of urgency with the defense. We just have to go to work every day with a lunch pail mentality, and I know guys are pumped.