This time of year brings up special memories for the Benzschawel family, particular for brothers Beau and Luke.
When the weather started to get cold and snow began falling on the ground, the brothers knew it was time to get dad – a former University of Wisconsin tight end – and hit the backyard gridiron to start competing.
“He would always have his Chad Ochocinco jersey, and I would throw on my Chargers’ Ladainian Tomlinson jersey, and we would be in the backyard with my dad being all-time quarterback,” said Luke Benzschawel, a 2016 Badgers commit. “We would keep going back and forth. He would usually win, but it was always pretty good.”
The competitive nature of Beau Benzschawel has been on full display this season, from overcoming being snubbed in the spring, injured in the fall and learning on the fly throughout the second half of his redshirt freshman season, which will end against USC in the Holiday Bowl Dec.30 in San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium (9:30 p.m. ESPN).
“I love his approach,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “I love the way he plays. I think it’s been good for him, and he’s been good for this team. I think he can still get better and has the ability and the knowledge and the want to get better, and that’s encouraging.”
Beau has been a key element for Wisconsin’s offensive line over the second half of the Big Ten season; a season marred with injuries and inconsistencies. Other than left tackle Tyler Marz, every position has seen multiple starters throughout the 12 game regular season, resulting in seven different starting combinations and a reliance on youth.
UW even went as far as starting four redshirt freshmen against Minnesota, a performance against a banged-up Gophers team that resulted in 257 yards, the most of the conference season and second-most of the year.
“We all had a great trust in each other up front,” said Beau, who started at right guard for the first time in his career against Minnesota after starting the previous five at right tackle. “I think I did pretty well, but as a group I think we played really well. We all finally got in sync. With the reps I had in practice, I worked the whole week at guard. It felt pretty natural at that position.”
Coming out of spring football, however, Beau was considered second best. Sophomore Hayden Biegel, who was the backup throughout the 2014 season, was dubbed the starter.
That made summer for Beau simple – try to get into the weight room every day and make some gains. He also made sure to get pointers on improving his technique when he had time to meet with the coaching staff and stay sharp with the playbook.
The benefits appeared to pay off in fall camp. Biegel suffered a head injury and was knocked out of practice, opening the door for Beau to state his case for the starting right tackle role. Within 24 hours, he was out with a knee injury – the most serious injury of the myriad of injuries the team suffered in fall camp.
“Our whole family was really upset about him, because he had been telling us how good he has been doing and fighting for playing time,” said Luke. “He wasn’t depressed but he was mad about himself and the injury.”
Beau was sidelined for six weeks to allow his knee to heal and go through rehab. Although he missed his chance to start out of the gate, he spent the time building his upper body strength and build off his summer gains.
“Having spent the time during the summer, I feel I was able to come back quicker, so it was clutch,” said Beau. “It was really tough, but once that happened, I knew what I had to do to get back.”
Cleared in late September, he made his college debut as the starting right tackle in Wisconsin’s 23-21 victory at Nebraska.
“It was a mixture of excited and nervousness,” said Beau. “Nervousness because I’m in front of 80,000 people and however many people are watching at home, but also playing to the guys next to me and not wanting to let them down. I was doing everything in my power to do what I can, not mess up and throw mistakes out the window to get ready for that next play.”
UW offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph has pushed his linemen to be able to make in-game corrections from play to play, opposed to having to wait until the next day’s film study.
Beau’s biggest problem early in the season was struggling to adjust, particularly when it came to protecting the quarterback. Watching his big brother in the stands or on television, Luke knew it was only a matter of time before it was going to click.
“I think it’s really just his will to win and will to beat the guy across from him,” Luke said of Beau’s biggest strengths. “You can see when he messes up he gets real pissed at himself and the next play the guy won’t even be close to making the play. His resilience to get the last play and keep going is impressive.”
Beau doesn’t know what position he’ll settle in at next season. Wisconsin loses only Marz and the constant line adjustment has allowed the Badgers to build some young depth for next season. Expected to play right guard in the bowl game, Beau is more than willing to play either spot next season.
“I’m up for the challenge wherever the coaches want to put me,” said Beau. “Either way, hopefully I can stay on the field as long as I can to play with these guys. Four of us are redshirt freshmen and getting all the reps we have, we still have a long time to go. We should be rolling for sure.”
And one of the keys to Beau’s development will be Luke, who will sign his national letter of intent in early February and will work on the scout team defensive line across from his older brother. Considering their backyard football battles, and the indoor wrestling matches that occasionally ended in blooding noses, the Benzschawels are anxious to renew their rivalry.
“Him and all his buddies always give me crap because they are all offensive linemen,” said Luke. “It’ll be fun.”