Last spring Levonne Rowan was not happy that someone was competing with him for a starting cornerback spot. This year, however, Rowan is again competing with junior Brett Bell for a starting job and he has an entirely different view of the situation.
"Last year I looked at it as a negative thing that I was fighting all the time but it is getting us better, both of us," Rowan said.
Rowan's perspective is likely tempered by the knowledge of what transpired last season. Bell won the competition last year and played well before separating his shoulder and missing the final 10 games of the season. The week before Bell went down, Rowan had temporarily unseated Scott Starks at one cornerback spot. Starks went on to have the best season of his career, while Rowan battled Chuckie Cowans for playing time on the opposite side, each reaping significant playing time, especially against multiple receiver sets.
"I think we are both going to play anyway," Rowan said of this spring's competition with Bell. "Obviously I want the job but (we are) just going to keep fighting for it. We both are going to play."
"We are all in competition," Bell said. "You go into spring ball, it keeps everybody in competition, makes everybody better as a whole, especially as a defense, when you are competing for a job. I think competition is just part of the game."
This spring Rowan is once again bouncing around from left corner to right corner and back again. Wisconsin's depth chart shows corners split between field and boundary corners, though Bell and Rowan said that had not been implemented quite yet. Rowan added that the team employed a boundary and field scheme at times late last season. Regardless of how the positions play out, it seems assured that Rowan will again play each position.
"They had me all over the field last year: left, right, right, left, boundary, field, everything," Rowan said. "Wherever they put me, as long as I'm on the field, I don't care really. As long as I'm on the field, they can put me at d-end."
"I just want to be consistent and show that I can be consistent," he added. "That was my downfall last year. As I was learning on the job I was inconsistent. But now that I'm older I just want to be consistent."
It was only a few months ago, at the end of the 2003 season, that Rowan still referred to himself frequently as one of the younger players; someone with much to learn. In that short time, however, he has developed the mindset of a veteran.
"I just remember coming here for the first summer," Rowan said. "It's fast, man. I've just got to do my thing this year. I'm getting old. It's time to put it together."
Last fall, Bell underwent surgery to repair his damaged shoulder and spent the rest of the year working to get healthy. He stayed in shape throughout the ensuing rehab, continuing to run and lift with his lower body. But he could not fully lift and build strength in his upper body until about a month and a half ago.
On March 8, during Wisconsin's third practice of the spring, and first in full pads, Bell had the opportunity to strap on the pads and make a hit for the first time in about six months.
"It felt great," he said. "It felt like I didn't lose a step. I wasn't really hesitant hitting or anything. It was a good confidence booster."
Rowan also had to fight through injuries in the past year. He had a cast on his hand for part of fall camp last year, causing him to drift down the depth chart and work out primarily as the fifth cornerback.
This spring, while running with the Badger men's indoor track team, Rowan suffered from back spasms after one of his ribs came out of joint.
"One of my ribs got slid off the joint," he said. "It slid out and they had to put it back in for me. My back would spasm and get really tight from it being out and I didn't know what it was and I was just trying to get through everything."
Following practice March 8, Rowan said it was the type of injury that will tighten up on him after a practice. "When I go home it is going to bothering me, it is going to be a little tight. I've just got to do what I've got to do," he said. "I heat it before practice and I stretch and stuff. I guess it gets better after that. It is just going to take time."
Rowan sprinted for the outdoor track team last weekend, finishing ninth in the 100 meters at the Northridge Invitational in a time of 10.98 seconds.
Second set of spring practices begins Wednesday
After two weeks away from the practice field, Wisconsin recommences spring practice with the first of 11 sessions Wednesday. The spring season will conclude with the annual spring game April 10. Due to the Camp Randall stadium construction, the game will be played at Madison La Follette High School's Lussier Stadium with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m.