It’s been a tough last three weeks for the Badgers, who saw a promising 5-2 season slip away, leading to players being frustrated at the team’s effort over the last few weeks.
Last week, following the game, safety Hunter Wohler questioned whether players were fully bought in, blasting teammates for their lack of effort, while defending the coaching staff.
Speaking on his teammate’s comments, defensive end James Thompson shared similar frustrations this week, pointing out how hard the seniors and the coaching staff has worked for this moment.
“The seniors and all the older guys that put all this hard work and everything and [you] see guys who are slacking off or not being fully bought in, like Hunter said or all the players have said, it’s really frustrating,” Thompson said. “Especially once people work so hard during spring ball, summer camp and all the changes that going on around here, too and people that say they’re going to do this and do that, but it’s not actually doing it. That’s like a shot in the back. You put your blood, sweat and tears for this program. Everything you see that everybody’s not bought in. So it’s like, can I really trust you?”
“So it hurts seeing that some guys are doing having that “meh” feeling. And I’m getting frustrated because I got seniors and older guys that put their blood, sweat, tears and they get let down by guys who are not really prepared enough or not focused enough.”
Thompson understands the bond between the team, which is why tough love is needed at times.
“It’s tough for the seniors, man. We don’t want to go out like this for seniors and they work so hard for this program. Everything, the good and the bad and just seeing this stuff happen. So we got to let some stuff out, too,” Thompson said. “These are brothers, too, and they put a situation the same way as you are. So you’d be able to come out and play and get your things out, too. We’re brothers, you know what I’m saying? We love, but [we need] tough love too, though.”
Thompson believes that the negative energy recently has been contagious, leading to a spiraling effect in the wrong direction.
“You just got to practice hard, lead by example, man. Sometimes that type of energy is contagious. So if you’re a leader, that leadership, like all the other guys right there, that’s contagious. So if you go and be negative, that can be contagious well, too,” Thompson said. “So you have to have a positive mindset and be able to keep that momentum going there to show them that, hey, pick it up. You know what I’m saying? You got faith to play. You mess up the play, but pick it up and do it again.”
Has Thompson noticed the lack of effort by players recently?
The defensive end acknowledged that it’s been more with the little things, but those turn into bigger issues, causing the team to fall apart on gamedays.
“I feel like that [the lack of effort] comes in like small packages and that’s what things, too. It’s the little things that happen. The little things turn to big things and just all just start falling apart,” Thompson said.
Now, it’s become a norm, which boiled down last Saturday in the embarrassing 24-10 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats.
“Now you see it week by week and it’s like, ‘oh, it happens’. Just clean it up during Friday night, up through walkthrough and then come up on Saturday and everything. But I feel like that small things turn to big things and it grows and grows and grows and grows and they’re going to explode,” Thompson said. “And I feel like that this Saturday, last Saturday, that’s what happened. And I feel like something may be said across the team and everything because we all have a goal and a mindset to win and everybody be on the same page for us to do that because we can’t just do it just one side of the ball or two sides of the ball. We have everybody else doing it.”
While he can’t speak for the remainder of the team, Thompson has noticed that preparation has been a key issue, leading to a number of the mistakes for the Badgers.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but I would say that one of the key things is preparation,” Thompson said. “Be able to have confidence and be able to play fast and play physical and do your job correctly. I think one of the big things to do is some people might get like jitters and everything, see what happens. They probably see something that new that they haven’t seen on film and then they start throwing [it all on Sundays].”
“But I would say that just be able to prepare right so you be confident fast and everything. Not saying that people weren’t, but I’m just saying that’s probably one way to get back to us.”
In an attempt to clear the air and potentially fix these issues, the Badgers hosted a team meeting on Sunday, providing an opportunity for players to voice their frustrations.
Offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini shared details of the meeting, as players spoke not only with the whole team, but also with their position groups, which allowed the coaches to hear all the concerns.
“There was a team meeting. We had a player meeting the other week and then we had a team meeting this week and then it kind of broken up position groups from there. But yeah, again, it’s good to just kind of be able to air out your opinions as a player be heard because you don’t get that opportunity quite as much as a wrestling guy and a guy look to as a leader,” Bortolini said.
“I think everyone was given an opportunity to speak with their position coach, express what they feel has been going on, what concerns they have, and then kind of go from there. And I think it’s good to kind of hear both sides of it, you know, what the coaching staff thinks and then what the players think.”
Bortolini hinted at a potential disconnect between the players and the coaches, which is why the meeting was beneficial, as it allowed everyone to hear both sides.
“Because I think there’s two point of views that may be a little different at times, but I think once you hear the other side of things, it makes it a lot more clear and I think it’s beneficial for both sides.”
The offensive lineman acknowledged how this Sunday was more fiery than past ones, given the high-flowing emotions at hand with the team, but it was a positive one, nonetheless.
“Yeah, definitely, [this Sunday seemed more fiery than past ones],” Bortolini said. “And I think there’s a lot of emotions that come. I mean, nobody likes losing and I think that’s the really big thing here, is that you put all this work, all this time in and we haven’t been able to piece it together. And I think it’s extremely frustrating.”
“So I think Sunday, felt some of those emotions come out, but I think it was a very positive thing that it’s just kind of some stuff that needed to be said. And I believe that it’s going to take us to where we want to go and if we put those emotions in the right spot, it’s going to help feel less for this next game.”
Why was this Sunday different than others? Bortolini acknowledged how the players usually haven’t voiced their frustrations this season, but with the number of issues at hand, the team felt it was necessary.
“Yeah, I think [this Sunday was a little different than normal],” Bortolini said. “I think usually just kind of like the hierarchy of things. You’re not going to go up to your coach and say what’s on your mind, but I think Sunday we want to hear what you have to say. We’re open to kind of hearing what your thoughts are because we’re not where we want to be. We want to figure out why we aren’t. And I think it just kind of gave guys an opportunity. But most days you’re not going to come in on a Sunday and go telling your coach, what do you think happened, what went wrong and what do you think you can do to make it better? You want to kind of hear, learn and listen.”
“I think it was very productive. I think it gave the coaches a good opportunity to see it from our side and then vice versa us a good opportunity to see it from their point of view. And I think you see where their frustrations rise and then they see where our frustrations arise. And I think going forward it kind of works to better that dynamic. I think better understand what we’re trying to do and why we’re trying to do it and put us in a better position down the road.”
Now, the Badgers will look to channel those frustrations into a send-off for their seniors, looking to achieve bowl eligibility in a win on Saturday evening against Nebraska.
Can they get the job done?