Lost among the pomp and circumstance of defeating the rival Minnesota Gophers for a 14th consecutive year was the group of Wisconsin Badgers who were not swinging the Axe at a goal post on Saturday.
Now, this is in no way diminishing what this group of seniors has done. They’ve won more games than any other class in school history. They’ll look to improve that number by one on Saturday. However, while the senior leadership is strong on this Badger unit, what may be even more impressive are the non-senior leaders.
The 12–0 Badgers start a redshirt sophomore quarterback in Alex Hornibrook who is 19–2 in his 21 career starts. They start a true freshman at tailback in Jonathan Taylor who is 120 yards away from breaking Adrian Peterson’s true freshman rushing record. They were led at receiver by a true sophomore in Quintez Cephus, who has been lost for the year due to injury. Never fear, as true sophomore A.J. Taylor, redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor, and true freshman Danny Davis have stepped up. The offensive line, arguably Wisconsin’s biggest reason for their success this season, features no seniors. Redshirt juniors Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel are the veteran members of this unit along with reserve lineman Micah Kapoi.
“Definitely, it’s on me and Beau, anyone who’s older and has had a ton of experience, to be the ones who stick out as leaders,” Deiter said after Saturday’s win. “I think the young guys have done a good job of staying calm and trusting their talent. I have yet to see them wide-eyed, and that’s good. They’ll be fine on the big stage.”
Now clearly, seniors Austin Ramesh and Troy Fumagalli can’t be forgotten in this group’s success. Ramesh, a fullback who ran for nearly 6,000 yards in his high school career, looked the part as he rumbled for 41 yards on a fullback misdirection play Saturday against the Gophers. Fumagalli is a finalist for the Mackey Award, presented every year to the nation’s top collegiate tight end. But for the most part, this offense is in the middle of a youth movement, and it’s thriving.
“It’s huge to have those guys get in there and make plays, whether it’s Jonathan or the receivers, they’re hungry to make plays and get the ball in their hands,” Hornibrook said. “They’re a group of athletic guys, and they can do some special things after the catch as well.”
While Hornibrook sees the young players making plays around him, it was refreshing to hear another perspective of these young players from a veteran on the defensive side of the football, cornerback Derrick Tindal, who has had to cover these players in practice.
“What has impressed me is the way they approach the game and they way they go out there and compete,” he said. “Usually for a freshman, it takes a while for a person to adjust to that level of competition, but they’ve already got it. That’s big.
“They already got the talent, the future is bright for all of them. The Big Ten and the nation are in trouble in the next couple years as they grow. I don’t even wanna be around them in practice to see how good they get.”
And how does it feel to be part of that group of troublesome underclassmen?
“We [Taylor, Davis, and Pryor], were just talking the other day, that once ‘Q’ [Quintez Cephus] comes back, we’re gonna be a pretty scary receiver group,” Pryor said.