Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen has only known and worked with Chris Borland for seven months, dating back to Andersen's hire in December. That did not stop him from making a bold statement Wednesday morning about the senior linebacker at Big Ten Media Days.
"Tremendous kid, tremendous leader, and I believe he's the best linebacker in the country."
That's high praise from a coach with limited exposure to one of his star players, but one of genuine sentiment and nature from Andersen about the Ketterling, Ohio, native. Andersen expects Borland to lead his newly schemed 3-4 defense on Saturdays starting Aug. 31 vs. UMass, and Borland believes the training wheels are off for his unit.
"I'm excited, I think in large part, the period of transition with Coach Andersen and his staff is kinda over," Borland said. "We've had seven months now to get to know one another, to get to know the schemes, so we're ready once fall camp starts to just hit the ground running."
"Transition" has been a key word at Wisconsin the past couple of seasons, with the winds of change not only taking assistant coaches to other programs, but also former head coach Bret Bielema, who left for Arkansas three days after his team won the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game. In mid-December, Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez named Bielema's successor in Andersen, who brought with him defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his 3-4 schemes to Madison.
"It went well," Borland said regarding the change in regime and schemes. "I think we were able to meet and understand coach Andersen's philosophy in the winter, and then spring ball allowed us to kinda get into the football aspect of it. So in large part, I think the transition period is really over and we're ready to get fall camp started."
Aranda declared the Badgers would attack more on the defensive side of the ball, but even with the uncertainty in the secondary after three starters left for the NFL following last season and potential 2013 starters Reggie Mitchell and Donnell Vercher no longer involved with the program, Borland believes in his unit.
"I think we'll be fine back there [in the secondary], but we're absolutely going to be more aggressive, and we have great blitzers," he said. "We have great stand up guys for the 3-4, so I think it caters to our skill set pretty well."
The 5-foot-11, 248-pound linebacker, who has 41.5 career tackles for loss (TFLs) and 13 career forced fumbles, believes the personality of the Badgers program will not change despite the regime and scheme changes.
"We're the same Wisconsin," Borland said. I think based off the kids we have in the state, we'll always be that Wisconsin. Even if you run a different scheme, we will always be physical, we'll always be tough, we'll always try to outwork and outsmart our opponents."
Coach Andersen applauded the his team's 23 seniors for their leadership during the past seven months but singled out Borland as a key example of consistency athletically, academically and socially.
"He's played so well," Andersen said. "He's gone to school so well, he's changed himself from a young man into a man so well."
"He's the poster for what you would want in a young man in college athletics or any young man or young lady in athletics and what college athletics is. Besides that, he is a tremendous, tremendous football player. His God-given ability is unbelievable, and he's done a great job of taking advantage of that and building himself into a team leader, and I expect him to be a leader of a great defense, and he expects the same thing."
With such lofty expectations by his head coach for himself, of his own self and of the 2013 Wisconsin Badgers team, Borland takes a simple approach to it all.
"I think you just handle your business the way you have in your past. External things don't affect day one of fall camp practice. Things as practical as preparing for practice, taking care of your body, eating right and just doing all those little things, everything else will take care of itself."
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