MADISON – With all the press surrounding the ongoing quarterback battle in Wisconsin’s fall camp, the question of who will be the team’s starting punter in 2016 has been buried in the headlines.
For a pair of lunch-pail guys who embrace the work, it’s a perfect scenario.
“We’re under the radar, but I guess that’s how we want to be,” sophomore P.J. Rosowski said. ”As long as we go out and perform like the team needs us to do, that’s what we’re here for.”
With Wisconsin season opener against No.5 LSU at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field just 11 days away, the Badgers are still ironing out their two-deep depth chart. That includes the starting punter position, as both Rosowski and true freshman Anthony Lotti remain locked in a heated position battle.
“They had a good spring and they did some good work in the summer,” special teams coach Chris Haering said. “You could tell they came into camp prepared and ready to compete … They both have had some really good days here.”
From the time he committed last summer, Lotti set his sights on being the team’s starting punter week one. Renowned for both his ability to hit booming kicks or kick with touch, Lotti has been the presumed favorite from the start.
While he said he hasn’t kicked the way he’s wanted to in camp, still searching for his rhythm in a stadium known for tough swirly wind conditions, Lotti said the only pressure he feels is the one he puts on himself.
It’s the same mindset he took last summer when he came to UW’s high school specialists camp, outkicking all the other recruits in a skills competition and being the only punter UW offered a scholarship to in the 2016 class.
He backed that up during his senior year of high school, averaging 45.4 yards on 49 punts, including 19 placed inside the 20-yard line and 15 of 50-plus yards.
“I do best during competition,” Lotti said. “Once I came up here I put a lot of pressure on myself. Everyone figured I would be the one starting. I struggled a little bit in the beginning but I’m settling in now.”
Rosowski – a Stoughton native – got his feet wet last year when he saw the field in five games, punting once in the nonconference season for 40 yards and had eight kickoffs in four games, averaging 62.5 yards per kick.
College players usually see a jump in their strength and gained weight once they join a college strength and conditioning program full time and Rosowski took full advantage, adding upwards of 40 pounds since arriving two years ago.
“Tackling out there, you want to be able to protect yourself and hopefully involve yourself in the coverage,” Rosowski said, who is also slated to be junior kicker Rafael Gaglianone’s holder for extra points and field goals this season.
“I’ve grown into my body a little bit better now. Just attributing that amount of weight that’s put on, especially a lot of muscle and being able to use those muscles, combined technique, you’re going to add a couple more yards and hang time.”
While he didn’t know for certain, Rosowski admitted he had a “pretty good idea” with Drew Meyer graduating and a new coaching staff coming in that Wisconsin would be looking to add a punter. He wasn’t surprised when he found out the caliber of player he would be competing against would be a first-team All-American.
“You just have to take everything how it comes and keep working on yourself every day,” Rosowski said. “Anthony is a great kid, works hard and I think that we push each other. We talk about what each other is doing and share the info. I think competition brings out the best in you. Like the coaches say, it can make you better or break you. I always want to get better.”
Added Lotti: “We have a strong competition going, but we’re also feeding off each other and helping each other. We just want to see each other do the best we can. We’re still battling it out.”
When kicking in media-open practices, Lotti has delivered in terms of accuracy, able to land punts near the 10-yard line to pin opponents deep in their own territory. After taking most of the punting reps in the spring when Lotti was still in high school, it’s evident that Rosowski is punting with confidence.
“P.J. has a strong leg and he’s the ultra competitor,” Haering said. “He’s going to detail everything. He came to try to win the job, as I think his work ethic and his attention to detail is respectable.
“(Anthony) has a lot of talent, a lot of natural talent and a good leg. He’s the same kind of mold as P.J. He’s a worker and when he showed up at our camp and we put him in competitive situations, that’s where he shined. We were excited about his approach.”
With Haering saying the starter will be determined by whichever punter can string together the most consistent days, both players – much like their quarterback teammates – are hoping their play will do the talking.
“I’ve just approached it as getting better each day,” Rosowski said. “That’s the biggest thing for me. That’s how I’ve always approached practice and how the coaches have always coached us. One percent better every day will get you where you need to be, so I take that approach every day in camp and everything will fall into place.”