After practice Monday, as players and coaches milled about the hallway outside, boisterous cheers reverberated from the Wisconsin locker room. The decibel level grew progressively louder as more Badgers ambled inside. Some, hearing the furor, quickened their pace as they drew near the doors. "Are they going?" a player asked rhetorically, executing a swim move into the locker room.
"We've got this thing in our locker room called the W," linebacker Dontez Sanders explained. "We go in there and wrestle." After practice Sunday, Sanders had challenged linebacker Brandon Kelly. "I wanted my belt back," Sanders said. "I'm the champ now of the locker room."
The matches have become a daily ritual since early in the spring season, the concomitant cheers gaining volume with each practice.
Sanders credited Anthony Davis, "the Don King of everything," with launching the contests, which take place "before practice, after practice, after we lift. Whenever. Whenever it's screaming in there, it's going on in there."
"There is a lot of competition going on here," quarterback Tyler Donovan said. "People are having fun."
Few starting positions are up for grabs on a veteran-laden team, but that has not impeded a competitive spirit that has seemingly taken on a mind of its own.
It started shortly after the 2003 season ended. Strength and conditioning coach John Dettman threw a twist into offseason workouts, randomly assigning players to teams that changed workout after workout and sometimes having them compete as sole individuals.
"If you lost the competition you had to run extra," linebacker Reggie Cribbs said. "It gives you a competitive spirit and now we've taken that to the field. It makes it more fun."
On the field, Wisconsin has often concluded practice with offense-versus-defense competitive scrimmages, using third-down scenarios as the basis. The winners watch their opponents do a series of push-ups and sit-ups.
"I think anytime you compete within the team the players know who is getting better," outside linebackers coach Brian Murphy said. "The players know who the tough guys are. Players know the guys who are always competing. I think everyone gains an appreciation for those guys. It is kind of like a snowball. You get a couple guys, two, three, four, and then it snowballs into everyone being a part of that."
The battle for the ‘W' is indicative of that snowballing effect. The wrestling matches took place in the past, but sporadically.
"Now there's names up on the board," Sanders said. "It got matchups, promoters and all that stuff. Right now I've got Scott Starks as my Don King.
"I've been going three times a week, going against everybody. I wrestled against ‘Taj'. I didn't beat Taj though."
"Yeah, I'm in," the 185-pound Donovan said, adding that the increasingly elaborate matches are divided by weight class and region. "I represent Wisconsin."
Regional considerations played a role in Sanders' challenge for Kelly, a fellow native of Bedford, Ohio, which is a short drive from Cleveland.
"(We'll) just be out here talking about who's the toughest guy from Cleveland," Sanders said. "That's me for sure, by far.
"I had to get my title back."