Ostrowski learned predecessors' lessons

Sophomore defensive tackle was an eager understudy to Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson

Justin Ostrowski, the University of Wisconsin's most experienced returning defensive tackle, had a whopping five tackles last season. He played sparingly in a reserve role, rotating in behind two of the Big Ten's elite in Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson and alongside Kalvin Barrett and Nick Hayden.

Hawthorne, Jefferson and Barrett used up their eligibility when the final whistle blew at the 2005 Outback Bowl and are now busy prepping for the National Football League's Draft.

Ostrowski and Hayden remain, having combined for all of six tackles last year. But with the apex of his second season as a Badger on the horizon last December, Ostrowski reflected on his redshirt freshman season with pride and a deep knowledge that he needed to improve, learning the lessons the departing seniors had vested in him, if he was to take full advantage of the opportunity that will present itself to him next season.

"Anttaj and Jason do so many good things," Ostrowski said then, a few weeks before the Outback Bowl. "Those two guys are two of the best in the nation. To feed off of, to learn from them technique-wise, footwork; it has just been very reliable."

The 6-foot-5, 304-pounder spent the past two seasons preparing for the chance that he has this spring. After spending his true freshman season redshirting and playing with the scout team, and last season occasionally spelling the senior starters, Ostrowski is now the Badgers' top defensive tackle.

Said Ostrowski: "When I came in it was a little overwhelming for me. I think as the year went on, especially my second year here, I've really got adjusted to what to expect and school wise, football life and everything."

"With redshirting you aren't down with the guys very much," He said. "But this year [2004] playing with them constantly every day you get better every day, keep improving over the year. And that's what my No. 1 goal is: to improve week in and week out."

For Ostrowski, the key to that learning process has been to heed the advice of defensive line coach John Palermo, and to watch his elders at his position.

"The things Anttaj, Jason, especially the tackles show me every day in practice, I just watch," Ostrowski said less than four months ago — an eternity as far as UW's defense is concerned. "When they are out there practicing I just watch the technique they do, what they do to be successful on the field."

Ostrowski is not going to be Hawthorne or Jefferson. Not this year, maybe not ever. To this point in practice he has not demonstrated their athleticism or playmaking potential. What he does have is the size and strength to occupy offensive linemen and plug gaps. This will leave more opportunities for, and more pressure on, UW's linebacker corps, especially mike linebacker Andy Crooks, who will have to thrive as a tackle-to-tackle run stuffer for the Badgers to be successful.

Ostrowski has taken all of his snaps this spring with the first team defense and has held up pretty well, though he has made few disruptive plays.

Back in December, his spring opportunity within sight, Ostrowski insisted he was focused on the here and now, on prepping for the upcoming bowl game. He was "taking one day at a time," he said, "getting better, being consistent, not having that bad play every other play. That's one thing I need to work on yet is being consistent."

Ostrowski paused, then permitted himself to glance ahead, if only to bring himself back to the present.

"The future does look good right now," the then-redshirt freshman said. "I've just got to keep getting better each day in the weight room, on the football field and work on the things that I need to work on."

That remains true today.

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