"I don't want to feel old. Being older makes me feel like my back should hurt," Brinkley said. "I want to feel experienced, get a feel for the game and have an idea what's coming."
And don't dare question Aaron Henry's motives or determination to get back on the field at a top physical level. After the roller coaster he's been on the last season (blowing out his ACL in an Outback Bowl prep practice, having self doubt and questioning if he wanted to play this game anymore), the sophomore cornerback has a renewed spirit, and an aggressive attitude.
"I am more thrilled than when I first started playing football," Henry said. "Being out for a year, being able to re-evaluate my situation and look at things from a different level has been tremendous. Now, I am like a kid in a candy store."
Combined, they are two of Wisconsin's top cornerbacks, bringing two different styles and a wealth of knowledge into the secondary.
Henry played in 12 games his freshman year, including two starts, while registering 38 tackles and one interception. While Henry redshirted last season to rehab his knee injury, Brinkley picked up the slack, playing in every game, starting seven, making 40 tackles and tied for a team-best four interceptions.
Henry plays the position physical, Brinkley relies on speed and both the sophomore and junior, respectively, rely on their game experience to carry them through.
"We've got knowledge and have that experience behind us to help us complete," Brinkley said. "We communicate on and off the field to make sure we are on the same page. We both can make the big plays and get the tackler down. That experience drives you to want to be better."
Added Henry: "We're the same because we look at the game very similar, both being mental cornerbacks that play the game smart. We're going to shut it down this year, you can believe that."
Since his injury happen, Henry has made it a point to make all the cornerbacks better. The spring camp following his injury, Henry was a staple on the sideline, pointing out different tendencies to his teammates while trying to get his knee better. When his knee didn't positively react, forcing him to miss the season, Henry made it a point to talk defenses with Brinkley, becoming the junior's extra set of eyes on the field.
"With his injury, he took pride in coaching up the young guys, me, anybody that was around at the time because he has that experience," Brinkley said. "Now, we got some younger corners that have shown promise this camp. Coming into camp, Aaron and I came in as the most experienced unit and I think we need to live up to that."
Although Wisconsin has a plethora of young, agile cornerbacks, the Henry-Brinkley connection seems to have pushed ahead of the pack. Henry has showed his versatility all fall camp, getting in the way of receivers to deflect passes, while Brinkley has relied on his suffocating coverage to shut down the passing lanes.
"Aaron separates himself by thinking the game as it happens," secondary coach Kerry Cooks said. "He recognized things a little bit quicker because his football I.Q. is high, but Niles is probably the more athletic-type guy that you can match up against the opponent's best receiver. You feel comfortable with both."
After a year away and a renewed spirit, Henry is ready to make a statement that a year away from the field hasn't clouded his judgment or hampered his step. Instead, he's going to rely on the experience and knowledge that he, Brinkley and the rest of the cornerbacks possess to make turnovers a positive thing for the Badger defense.
"From what we did in the spring to now, everything is starting to click," Henry said. "We have a bend but don't break rule, but we all want to play together and as a unit. I think this unit is going to be pretty special."