Jake Kocorowski/BadgerNation

Struggling early in his career, redshirt sophomore defensive end Billy Hirschfeld is on the path upward

Picking himself off the turf after a tough first two seasons, sophomore defensive end Billy Hirschfeld is being counted on to help Wisconsin's defensive line in 2016.

MADISON – Three years ago, defensive end Billy Hirschfeld was a member of the ‘Super Six,’ a name given by the Wisconsin coaching staff to the top six high school players in the state.

Two year ago, Hirschfeld had hit rock bottom.

“I was starting new and had to work my way back up,” Hirschfeld said. “I had to build my confidence back up, which I lost coming into it.”

So while the climb from obscurity to reserve defensive end might not seem like much, Hirschfeld is starting to clear the debris aside and find his way as a football player once again. With a roster full of young talented defensive linemen, Hirschfeld has knocked the rust off from spring and is getting considerable reps as a second-team end.

“Last year Bill was getting his feet wet and I threw him in there when I felt I could get in him there,” defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield said. “He’s going to have to be a contributor this year. He’s not there in experience yet, but the pace he’s on I’ll be putting him in the game.”  

A former three-star recruit out of Hartland Arrowhead, Hirschfeld finished his career with 184 tackles, 49 TFLs, 35 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 8 pass breakups and two blocked field goals. He was the recipient of Tim Krumrie Award as the top defensive lineman in the state, a first-team all-state selection as a junior and senior and a two-time division 1 state champion.

But when he got to college and was going through his redshirt season, he felt like a shell of himself.

“I wasn’t happy with how I was playing,” Hirschfeld recalled. “I didn’t feel like the same player I was in high school. I was at bottom emotionally and physically.”

So how did Hirschfeld start pulling himself out from the fog? From a physical standpoint, the addition of strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej brought the strength back in his game, making him feel more confident in what he was doing. And when he needed a pick-me-up, Hirschfeld turned to his fellow in-state players.

“I had a great group of guys around me, especially Chikwe (Obasih), Conor (Sheehy), Alec (James), (Jake) Keefer, (Konrad) Zag(zebski),” Hirschfeld said. “That group of guys helped build me back up. They taught me along the way of what I needed to do better, what I need to know for each and every play. Because of that I was able to come out of rock bottom and rise back up.”  

 The first step was getting on the field. The role of a backup is simple – bring the same energy and intensity as a starter. Hirschfeld got a small taste of that last season by playing in four games as a redshirt freshman, although none came in high pressure situations. Why? He wasn’t ready.

“I didn’t understand all the plays yet, I didn’t have my technique down or my first step going forward,” he said. “It was all the little things that need to add up in order for me to get on the field. In spring ball everything started to click and start to work out better.”

Knowing that the starting ends ahead of him were just juniors and that he was clumped into a reserve mix of budding underclassmen, Hirschfeld tried to continue the momentum he generated over the summer by spending extra time working on his steps, conditioning, hitting the sled and keeping his nose in the playbook. After a slow start to fall camp, Hirschfeld has seen good results.

“I still have a lot of work to do,” Hirschfeld said. “The first few days in pads weren’t up to my standards, but it’s getting better. There’s always going to be something to fix. That’s what I’m hoping to do, just learn from those mistakes I make and fix them the next day.”

With his role yet to be determined, Hirschfeld continues to grind, only difference now is he’s approaching the season knowing he can compete.

“I feel like I have gained a lot of that confidence back,” Hirschfeld said. “I feel like I can definitely contribute for this team more. I feel like a whole different player and ready to knock some heads.”

Badger Nation Top Stories