For the second time in two years, the Wisconsin Badgers faced adversity and winds of change at the top of their program. Fresh off a shocking 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, head coach Gary Andersen headed west to Oregon State. One would think heading into the Outback Bowl against an impressive Auburn Tigers squad, and with the uncertainty of the new direction of the program, the players would be affected in their preparation.
For defensive lineman Warren Herring and the seniors on the 2014 Badgers squad, it was just business as usual. Despite the departure of Andersen and the acknowledgment that some players would have their third or fourth position coach in their time at Wisconsin after the season, the leaders continued to keep their younger teammates -- and the whole team -- on track. Keeping their concentration was much needed when preparing for an SEC powerhouse that was mere seconds from a national championship a year before. To Herring, it was just a part of the training that's forged his will and determination for five seasons in Madison.
"Just being prepared for the ups and the downs in times of adversity," Herring said, "for any types of changes, so everybody was definitely prepared and focused on that bowl game, which was very pleasant to see."
Herring was one of the leaders in that senior class that kept the team focused and hungry through a tumultuous December, culminating in a 34-31 overtime win against the Tigers. Savoring the New Year's Day bowl victory was short-lived, as just days after capping off his Wisconsin career with an emotional win, Herring started to pursue a goal he's wanted since he was young. For the past six weeks since playing his final game as a Badger, Herring's now zeroed in on his dream of playing in the NFL.
The Fairview Heights, Ill., native now trains at St. Vincent's Performance Center in Indianapolis. Working out twice a day during the week, with a session each Saturday, Herring's only day of rest comes on Sunday. His weekday routines involve cardio work in the morning with lifting sessions in the afternoon. He hopes that the specific training methods and goals set by his mentors at St. Vincent's will translate to a great performance in front of scouts during Wisconsin's pro day.
Herring credits his knowledge of the game -- which includes the various 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes and alignments he's worked within during his time at Wisconsin -- along with his athleticism as his strengths.
Though he tied for second on the team in sacks in 2013 with four as a backup and shifty complement to now-Philadelphia Eagles nose guard Beau Allen, a right knee injury in the season opener against LSU cost him five games of his senior season. He didn't register a sack in 2014. The 6'3, 294-pound linemen admitted he hopes to improve on his pass rushing skills.
"Over the past couple of years, I went from being somewhat successful at it to getting injured and not really having as much success at it, so [I'm] definitely honing in on that," Herring said.
The training staff at St. Vincent's ensures Herring receives the proper treatment and recuperation. Per an enthusiastic Herring, his body feels good, and more importantly, his knee feels fine and isn't bothering him.
"I'm ready to take that opportunity at the next level," Herring said.
The come-from-behind victory against Auburn was a fitting end to a career spanning 44 games. Herring admits it still feels "unreal" he's not with his fellow Badgers in winter conditioning -- as many of the seniors are finishing up school, while some are pursuing their professional aspirations on the football field.
Herring will always remember bonding with his teammates and the tradition of Wisconsin's winning ways in his five years at Wisconsin, which included three Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances, along with five consecutive New Year's Day bowls. Though he'll take those fond memories with his teammates on the field as he prepares for the next level, another broader bond will stick with him from his time at the university.
"Definitely just the relationship with all of the [student] athletes on campus," Herring said.
"That was very refreshing."