MADISON -- What do a runner-up Heisman Trophy campaign, Montee Ball's shattering of the FBS career touchdowns record, a 539- yard team rushing performance in the Big Ten championship, 408 yards of a Melvin Gordon winter wonderland against Nebraska and three current NFL running backs drafted in three years have in common?
Derek Watt blocked for them all.
As the torch has been passed from one running back to the next since 2012, Watt has remained the mainstay in the backfield as the fullback for the Badgers.
"He's seen as our foundation," junior running back Dare Ogunbowale said at Wisconsin's football media day Sunday. "He's the oldest guy in the meeting room. He's been there to see a lot of great running backs and a lot of great Badgers moments."
When Watt accelerates through the hole created by the offensive line, he announces the trouble about to emerge for the defense. He's the thunder before the storm of lightning. He's the first blow to the jaw before the knockout punch. He's the optometrist's warning that a puff of air is coming right before that air penetrates your eyeball.
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And, largely, as the precursor to the Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon shows, he has gone largely unnoticed. No Heisman glitz and glamour, no jersey sales at the University Bookstore, not even an all-Big Ten award (though he has earned Academic All-Big Ten each of the last three seasons). For Watt, there isn’t anything wrong with that.
"I've been extremely fortunate to have some great backs behind me that I've been able to block for," Watt said. "Doing my job is all I'm worried about. I'm not worried about getting any credit. Those guys deserve all the credit in the world."
This season, expect the eyes of college football to be on junior Corey Clement, who will assume the role of feature back at Wisconsin. Watt doesn't expect any drop-off as the Clement era begins.
"Corey's not only a great runner, but he's been working incredibly hard this summer, as well," Watt said. "He's not Melvin Gordon, he's not James White. He's Corey Clement."
With the experienced Watt and Clement, who has labored in the offseason to improve his speed and stamina for the upcoming season, in the backfield, the Wisconsin offense shouldn't miss a beat from its long standing, ground-and-pound identity.
Where the question lies is in the column to the right in the depth chart. Ogunbowale, redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal, freshman Caleb Kinlaw, freshman Bradrick Shaw and senior Serge Trezy all are in the mix for the backup spot. Out of the group, only Ogunbowale has any carries at Wisconsin (34 for 193 yards last season).
"We've got a lot of guys fighting for jobs, and that's a hot topic," Watt said. "We got a lot of guys who have been doing just that. They've been fighting for the job all offseason. They're doing everything they can to push each other each and every day."
Where inexperience looms, there is Watt. All 6’2, 236 pounds of him.
"Having that experience and having him be able to coach us through the things he sees is big," Ogunbowale said.
Though Watt brushes any credit for the Badgers' success on the ground off his himself, there are many who would give it right back to him. That group includes his partner in crime -- which is aggravated assault to Big Ten defenses, namely.
"I think some of the [rushing] numbers would be cut in half if it wasn't for Derek," Clement said. "I think he's undervalued in what he means to the offense."
What numbers, specifically? It could be Ball's 1,830 yards in 2012. Or Gordon's 1,609 and White's 1,444 in 2013. Or even Gordon's near record-breaking 2,587 in 2014. Or, more likely, all of them.
As Watt enters his senior season, he could even be taking on a larger role in Wisconsin's offense. He has 15 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown in his career, but could be featured more prominently in UW's aerial attack.
"I've been working on play more of a hybrid role," Watt said. "Playing a little bit more of wingback and fullback. Just trying to develop my all-around game and focus on some little things."
Another riddle: what do Watt and One Direction have in common?
Answer: They both know the importance of "Little Things."
"You can’t overlook the little things and you can't just go out there and assume you’re going to be alright every day even after doing it for so long," Watt said.
Recruited as a linebacker out of Pewaukee, Wis., Watt was once a question mark in terms of how he would fit on the offensive side. As fall camp starts for the Badgers, he is now one of the sure things amidst other various question marks.
"Coming in as a defensive player, then making the switch over, it was initially kind of a little change of pace," Watt said. "Now I feel very comfortable going into my fourth season on offense. I feel like I've developed and grown in new areas each year. I feel definitely comfortable going in and I'm just looking forward to have a big senior season and go out on a good note."
Whatever the role may be for Watt in 2015, that good note would resound very well with the Badgers --just like the opening squeal of "Jump Around" on an autumn Saturday, coming soon to a Camp Randall near you.