Much has been written about former Wisconsin Badgers coming back to their alma mater to coach the football program into prominence. The current regime includes head coach Paul Chryst, offensive and defensive coordinators Joe Rudolph and Jim Leonhard, along tight ends coach Mickey Turner and quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr also on staff.
That’s not to mention several additional members of the staff- including quality control, graduate assistant and strength and conditioning coaches—who wore cardinal and white in their playing days.
While those former Wisconsin players came home to help continue the winning precedent set at UW, several former Badgers within the state are molding future linemen at the youth and prep levels in a series of camps known as Trench Training.
A seasoned staff of coaches boasting NFL playing experience and close connections to UW have started to work with younger offensive and defensive linemen around the region with camps based in the Madison and Milwaukee metropolitan areas.
The mission of these camps, besides improving the technique and fundamentals of the next generations of football players, is to enjoy the grind of playing the not-so-glamorous positions on the line of scrimmage.
“What I saw when I got out of the NFL and got away from football for while, then went back in and starting coaching, is that I saw a lot of kids that were getting yelled at, screamed at,” said Glenn Derby, who was selected in the eighth round by the New Orleans Saints in the 1988 NFL Draft. “You could just tell they were not having fun. The more I coached, the longer I stayed in the game coaching, the more it became for me about trying to help these kids enjoy being an offensive or defensive linemen.”
Derby, who played with Chryst and longtime NFL veteran Paul Gruber at Wisconsin in the mid-to-late 1980s, summoned a phrase, “finding the pride,” when speaking about getting youth linemen excited to play these crucial positions.
“I really wanted to give back to the game for what I got and to help these kids go through that young stage and get up into high school and maybe even hopefully college where then it becomes really fun,” Derby said.
“As I look back on my career, I probably had as much or more fun because I was an offensive lineman because you have a group of eight to 10 guys that really get close and you’re really a core part of the team. As the game gets more advanced, you realized that’s supercritical, almost as critical as the quarterback so it just became fun and I wanted to find a way to find the little kids.”
Nellis, who played at Wisconsin from 2001-05 and was mentored by Chryst when the latter coached the tight ends in 2002 and 2005, noted the staff is on the same page about making these camps a “heavy, fundamental process” for those that attend.
“We’ve debated long and hard about going to pads, and we really feel great not being in pads and about working on the core fundamentals of offensive and defensive line,” said Nellis, a former walk-on who co-authored Walk-On This Way. “The three of us have broken that down into stance—really helping kids at all levels get into a great stance, a stance they can take off from and travel in multiple directions which is required on both sides of the ball. Starting with good feet, really working on six-inch steps and things that are really the core to the position.
“Not all of this stuff is glamorous. We spend a ton of time on strike and how to strike appropriately, how to keep head out of contact because it’s not really a natural movement.”
Listen to former Badgers Glenn Derby, Steve Stark and Joel Nellis discuss Trench Training, the 2018 Wisconsin offensive line and their thoughts on the in-state crop of prep linemen from last week’s Bucky’s 5th Podcast!
Derby recalled how both he and Steve Stark, a former Wisconsin captain in 1995 who played on the 1993 Wisconsin team with Rudolph that won the 1994 Rose Bowl, were watching their daughters training at a facility in the Milwaukee area and thought how it would be “cool” to do something along similar lines for linemen in the area.
Both Derby and Stark, who have high school coaching experience along with Nellis, have assembled a crew of former players that should be familiar to Badger fans. Both Derby and Nellis will run the offensive line content for the camps, and NFL veteran Nick Hayden will run with the defensive linemen.
Hayden played at in-state powerhouse Hartland Arrowhead before moving on to Wisconsin and a solid NFL career technically spanning seven seasons and 76 games played.
Another Badger, former defensive lineman Bryce Gilbert, also is a coach at these camps.
“We have just a ton of knowledge on both sides of the ball to work with both offensive and defensive lineman,” Stark said.
Two big camps will be run at the end of June. Their “Big Man Camp” will take place at James Madison Memorial High School in Madison on June 26th for kids ranging from fourth to eighth grade, with a “Play Big Camp” for high school players two days on June 28th at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, Wis. The latter will also have current Cleveland Browns guard Kevin Zeitler, another Wisconsin All-American standout who has gone on to play at the next level, as a special guest speaker.
Before being selected in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2012 NFL Draft—and later becoming the reportedly highest-paid guard in the league last March with the Browns—Zeitler played on two Wisconsin lines in 2010 and 2011 that were among the best in modern school history. The 2018 iteration of UW’s offensive line could challenge to reach that steep pedestal with returning All-American selections Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel and David Edwards.
According to Derby, whose freshman roommate was Beau and Luke Benzschawel’s father, Scott, who played at UW from 1983-87, he likes what he sees with the potential of the group Rudolph has developed.
“The thing that I see with Wisconsin that’s exciting is you got a good five kids that are phenomenal, that are very, very good,” Derby said. “They’re pre-rated All-Big Ten, All-American, etc., but you also got a lot of young guys and they keep recruiting these younger guys that are able to play that are going to fill in.
“So as I look at this team right now and this line, both offensive and defensive line, I believe that we have the potential to be one of the best teams in the nation because of the line play.”