Arrowhead (Hartland, Wis.) football coach Tom Taraska has seen quite a few start athletes in his tenure. In his estimation, more than 20 have ended up playing Division I football. When they return, they often bring back hardware.
"Our kids have been lucky enough to win a Super Bowl ring, six Rose Bowl rings, an Orange Bowl ring, a Fiesta Bowl ring, a number of other Bowl rings including the Outback Bowl games, the (U.S. Army) All-American Bowl game," Taraska said. He also added to that list rings from a National Championship, the Hula Bowl, East-West Shrine Bowl and the Blue-Gray Classic.
"All those kinds of things, but we are only short a Sugar Bowl ring so it would be really nice if the Badgers could go to the Sugar Bowl or Iowa or Minnesota—we've got kids at all those places now," Taraska said.
In the fall, three former Arrowhead defensive linemen will grace Big Ten rosters—Eric Zilisch at Iowa, Todd Meisel at Minnesota, and, the most recent addition, Nick Hayden, who will be a freshman at Wisconsin.
The Warhawk alum with the most attention directed his way in 2004, though, will be Tyler Donovan, who will be part of a wide-open competition for Wisconsin's quarterback job.
"I talked to Tyler Friday (Jan. 23) and he's really excited about it," Taraska said. "He feels athletically he's back to where he was."
Donovan led Arrowhead to the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association Division 1 State Championship game two seasons ago, playing in the semifinals and finals with a torn ACL. He rehabbed the injury in time to participate in fall camp and redshirted for the Badgers in 2003, winning the team's Scout Offensive Player of the Year Award.
"He feels really good," Taraska said. "He loves the Badgers, he's really excited. He likes his teammates a ton."
As spring practices approach, Donovan looks set to have a prime seat in a wide open competition that will also include front-runner John Stocco, who will be a sophomore in 2004, Matt Schabert, a senior, and incoming freshman Sean Lewis, who enrolled at Wisconsin for the spring term. In the fall two more incoming freshman will be added to that list—Bryan Savage and Marcus Randle El, who could also end up at receiver.
"(Tyler is) really excited for the challenge, knows it's going to be a challenge," Taraska said. "But Tyler has got a chance to be a special kid. He showed me some things for us that were really incredible. He is an athletic playmaker. He has a very strong arm. All he needs now is confidence of playing with those kids. But even their coaches told me he had a great year on their scout team. So, athletically he showed that he could play at that level."
Taraska feels that Donovan was helped immensely by the opportunity to redshirt, play on the scout team and compete against the first-team defense each practice.
"I think that that really helped Tyler a lot," he said. "The guys are so fast and they close on the ball so well. And it was a great situation for him to week-by-week to have to learn the opponent's offense and then executing against a defense like that. So realistically he got lucky in having a year where he had to really do things for his life against other good people. So once he learns the other parts I think that'll really close that gap fast.
"It is a great advantage to be quarterback of the scout team because every day you are going against a Big Ten defense. Where as sometimes you can be a backup or something on the other side and then you are going against a scout defense. So I think he felt he learned a great deal."
"He is a very humble kid. And very quietly, he's very excited about the opportunity," Taraska said. "It has been a dream of his. He moved into our district, (his family) built a house right behind our football stadium to become an athlete here, in grade school. It's always been his dream to be a Badger quarterback. He was a guy that when Nebraska, Texas and the other schools called, he was just, ‘hey, I'm going to Wisconsin.'"
Oh, and that Sugar Bowl ring?
"We're praying that one of these guys gets to the Sugar Bowl," Taraska said. "I told Tyler when he was home…and it would be even better if you could do it some year when it's a National Championship."