Freshman building towards playing time

Linebacker Nick Sutton has made a significant transition on the football field this year

Nick Sutton does not hesitate when asked his favorite impersonation.

"I like A.J. Hawk from Ohio State," Sutton said, referring to the Buckeyes' exceptional linebacker, an athletic 6-foot-1, 238-pound tackling machine.

Hawk, one of the best linebackers in the nation, is a good standard to aim towards.

"He's a great linebacker," said Sutton, who has spent this year on the University of Wisconsin's scout team.

The week leading up to the Badgers' home game against Ohio State, Sutton was Hawk —at least for Wisconsin's in-practice purposes.

"I just tried to play my hardest because I know he's one of the most physical players in college football," Sutton said. "I just tried to play my hardest to get the offensive line and running backs ready."

Sutton strove for that standard every week and was consistently successful. He won scout defensive player of the week twice — for his work prior to games against UNLV and Northwestern — and was named the Badgers' scout defensive player of the year at their postseason banquet Dec. 3.

"A lot of the things the scouts do are off of cards. It's drawn up for them," co-linebackers coach Brian Murphy said. "The one thing you ask is to pay attention, to be in the right spot, to play hard and to give a look that you think an opponent would give. He did that and he did it every day. He worked for it."

"There was so many of my scout team players that was deserving of the award," Sutton said. "I just felt it was an honor."

Sutton is one of 10 young defensive players coordinator Bret Bielema singled out for a watch list at the beginning of bowl practices. The Badgers want to see where the young, athletic linebacker can fit in next season, amidst a corps of linebackers that is getting rather crowded. Wisconsin has four class of 2005 verbal commitments at the position and all but one member of the three-deep, third-string sam linebacker John Gillen, will return next year.

Sutton's impersonation of Hawk will only go so far. Hawk is a star weak side linebacker at Ohio State; the same position Sutton began his Wisconsin career at in the fall. The Detroit native, however, was moved to sam linebacker during bowl season, after playing all three linebacker positions on the scout team.

"I'm adjusting to it," Sutton said. "Will linebacker, you are playing in space a lot more, covering backs. Sam linebacker, it's a lot more physical."

Sutton, it should be noted, played strong safety in high school, in a two-deep system where he was almost always lined up well off the line of scrimmage. He is used to playing in space, as the will linebacker does in the Badgers' system. The sam ‘backer plays up on the line, at times like a 2-point stance defensive end.

"It is hard to judge a young player on the line of scrimmage when it's the first thing that he does," Murphy said. "You are going to have contact on every play. You can see him do some things that make you optimistic that he'll be a very good player.

"I think with age and strength he should be pretty good as well. Also with the ability to run and to make athletic plays."

Sutton, who stands 6-foot-1, began his UW career weighing all of 190 pounds. In just one season, however, he has bulked up to 215. He plans to weigh 225-230 by the time fall camp 2005 rolls around.

"Now that I've received the scout team player of the year award, hopefully I'll transition into playing time," Sutton said. "I know I've got to keep coming to work every day. Nothing's a free ride here."

Veteran help

Sutton said his elder teammates — on each side of the ball — were helping smooth his transition to college linebacker.

"The older guys, they always help me on my technique," Sutton said. "They tell me what I can do better."

"Dontez Sanders, he's been working with me a lot and LaMarr Watkins, cause I was at will linebacker and they were teaching me the ropes. Jonathan Clinkscale and Donovan Raiola have been helping me a lot on the offensive line."

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