It could be expected that a fifth-year senior, who began his career as a walk-on, would be pretty revved up heading into his first career start.
That, however, would not fit Nick Cochart's personality.
"His mentality hasn't changed," linebacker Jeff Mack said. "His demeanor hasn't changed at all. He is just going to be in there more now. He knows what he has to do."
Cochart has been working for an opportunity to start since he first stepped foot on Wisconsin's campus as a priority walk-on five years ago. A long time to wait, but for the even-keeled Cochart, it is just another day on the field, another day to take care of his job on the defensive line.
"I'm just trying to do the same things I always do to prepare," Cochart said. "As a backup, you have to prepare to start every week, and now that I'm getting a chance it is no different than any other week. It will just be a little bit more exciting."
The Badgers top left defensive end, Erasmus James, is out indefinitely with a hip injury and Darius Jones, the top reserve, who started last week against West Virginia, is serving a one game suspension Saturday. In addition to James and Jones, Wisconsin is also without the services of Mike Kleber, who likely would have been a second team defensive tackle if not for a knee injury that has very likely ended his career.
Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez has frequently lauded his front line, particularly its depth. Now that depth will be put to the test. The Badgers, though, do not expect to miss a beat with Cochart filling in at defensive end.
"Nick Cochart is a veteran," Mack said. "He has played a lot of ball for us. He has no problem stepping in and playing well. He is very smart, very quick on his feet."
Cochart hails from Brussels, Wis., where he starred alongside former Badgers Al and Ben Johnson at Southern Door High School. Cochart started all four years on the offensive and defensive lines and was the team MVP his senior year when he recorded 79 tackles and 14 sacks. With Cochart helping to lead the way, Southern Door's starting running back tallied 2,000 yards that year.
The conventional logic was that Cochart was too small and not quite athletic enough. Indeed, at 267 pounds Cochart looks relatively small playing alongside 300-pound tackles Jason Jefferson and Anttaj Hawthorne.
Cochart, though, quickly worked his way up the Badgers depth chart, earning a spot on the second string late in his redshirt freshman season. The past two seasons he has been an integral part of the defense, a top reserve at all four defensive line positions. In 21 games, he has recorded six tackles.
"He has been MVP as far as I'm concerned because Nick is a guy who can play every position, get lined up right and give you a chance to win," defensive line coach John Palermo said. "He knows what to do and he knows how to do it."
Though Cochart has played across the line the past two seasons, he has primarily subbed in at defensive tackle. Saturday, he will get the bulk of the reps at defensive end.
"Really for those guys it is like getting out of jail to move outside," Palermo said. "Inside they are getting whacked every which way and they don't sometimes know where it is going to come from. At least when you are lined up outside you know that one of two guys is going to hit you."
Now, Cochart will bring his even-keeled attitude to the field in a far larger dose Saturday. On a defense that is loaded with excitable personalities, Cochart is a balancing influence.
"He calms the defense," Mack said. "He is not a wild, crazy guy. Nick Cochart just goes about his business."
"I just want to go out and make a big play the first snap," Cochart said. "I'm excited, but it is just another game; that is the way you have to look at it. If you get too hyped up about it you are going to go in there and make a bunch of mistakes and that is not what I want to do."
Due to the absences on Wisconsin's defensive front, Cochart will not be the only player receiving more playing time than usual.
Last week against West Virginia only six players played defensive line for Wisconsin—Jones, Hawthorne, Jefferson, defensive end Jonathan Welsh, Cochart and linebacker Alex Lewis, who plays rush end in Wisconsin's nickel defense. Among the reserves—defensive ends Jason Clemens, Traison Lewis and Joe Monty and tackles Lyle Maiava and Matt Gadja—only Lewis has seen game action on the defensive line.