MADISON, Wis. - Suddenly, a season that started so well looked like it was spinning out of control. Two desperation heaves sunk the Badgers in back-to-back weeks, and senior safety Aaron Henry knew something had to be done to stop the bleeding. After the Ohio State loss, Henry, as well as senior quarterback Russell Wilson, asked if they could hold a players-only meeting. If the Badgers wanted to save their once-promising season, something needed to change.
"After the coaches talked to us, the seniors asked the coaches if they would leave," junior running back Montee Ball said Tuesday. "They made sure to tell us that ‘we've got to stick together, we've got to move forward ... don't forget about the losses, but don't sit there thinking about it.'"
Moving on from two emotional losses is tough in any year, but the Badgers were lucky. With divisional play in place, the Badgers still had a way to re-take control of their fate in the Big Ten, even if their hopes of a national title had been dashed. Sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis said the team may have been caught looking too far ahead back in October, but the meeting helped the team re-focus on the rest of the season.
"[We're] trying to take every game for what it is, not looking ahead to the future," Abbrederis said. "I think that maybe got us a little bit with all the [hype] ... So just making sure we did what we were supposed to do, and take advantage of every opportunity that we get."
"We kind of just had a real heart-to-heart I guess," sophomore defensive tackle Beau Allen said. "No B.S., they just kind of spoke to us about what's at stake .. we kind of just put it all on the line. Those were two tough weeks, and it's not only that we lost, it's how we lost that was kind of strong. I think, if anything, it kind of made us stronger as a team, and it kind of brought us together."
Sometimes, a fellow player can get their message across better than a coach. Henry was aware of that when he called the meeting with his fellow captains.
"I think sometimes the coaches can say all they want," Henry said. "They can preach, they can tell you things you should do, things you shouldn't do, but ultimately it has to come from the players. I'm more than willing to listen to a player in that position, as opposed to a coach ... sometimes it's not received as well when it's coming from a coach."
And in circumstances like the ones the Badgers faced in October, team captains prove whether they deserved that title.
"It says a lot. These guys, they're great leaders and they know when to kind of be there for you, and when to get on you," Allen said. "It speaks volumes for the direction this team has gone since those two losses."
It's easy to think the Badgers could have let the season slip away from them, too. One more loss, and they would probably be sitting at home, waiting for an invitation to some middling bowl game.
"I think that was just one instance where it really came together well. It was a critical moment in our season," Allen said. "Things could have gone downhill, and I think we just climbed back up and handled it well."
The after affects have certainly been nice for the Badgers. Since those two losses, they have won their last four games, and secured a spot in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. But would all of that have happened with out the players-only meeting?
"If we don't hold that players meeting, maybe I pull a couple of the older guys aside and we have a meeting ... maybe, maybe not," Henry said. "I definitely think it put everybody on the right track mentally, and kind of brought us in. That meeting kind of re-focused us, like ‘we know where we're headed."
And while it'll never be known for sure how much of an effect the meeting had, Ball is certainly happy with where the Badgers' leaders brought them.
"That's why they're the captains," Ball said. "They brought us together, and look where we are now."
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