Andersen, Badgers open 2013 season
Two days before he was scheduled to walk into Camp Randall Stadium for his first game as Wisconsin's head coach, Gary Andersen was speechless.
“I really have no idea what to say to you,” Andersen told reporters after practice Thursday afternoon. “That's the bottom line. We're ready to roll and excited to get to 11 o'clock on Saturday.”
Andersen's eagerness to take the field against visiting Massachusetts, for his 62nd overall game as a college head coach, is surpassed by that of his players, some first-year starters and many seniors.
“It is a new era here in Wisconsin football and everybody is ready for that fresh start,” said senior James White, set to make his first start at tailback for UW. “Coach Andersen is excited. We're excited.”
Running backs coach Thomas Hammock understands why White and fellow tailback Melvin Gordon are eager to get the season underway.
Hammock, entering his third season on the staff, knows their goal is to show the running game can function without record-setting tailback Montee Ball, who is battling for the starting job with the Denver Broncos.
“Like any competitor they want to show…screw Montee Ball,” said a chuckling Hammock, who acknowledged he would take Ball back for one more season in a heartbeat. “That is normal human nature. I am excited to see those guys work.
“They had a good summer and a good fall camp but it is about what you do on Saturdays.”
Gordon roared when told of Hammock's comment.
“That's Coach Hammock,” he said. “Anybody would want Montee, man.
“But we can handle the load. I feel that people don't think we can handle the load like Montee did. I feel we can. I think that is what we've got to show everyone.”
Offensive lineman Tyler Marz, a redshirt sophomore from Springfield, Minn., hopes to show he is ready to lock down the job at left tackle.
Marz, who was a regular in UW's “barge” formation last season, did not fare well at left tackle in the spring. However, he took over as the No. 1 left tackle midway through camp after an injury to center Dan Voltz led to shuffling on the line, and he has held onto the job.
“The spring left a bad taste in my mouth the way things worked out,” Marz said.
Marz opened spring ball battling Dallas Lewallen to start at left tackle. Offensive line coach T.J. Woods eventually moved Ryan Groy from left guard to left tackle and moved Lewallen to guard. Marz was left as the No. 3 tackle.
“That was the hint,” Marz said. “So I knew that over the summer I had to work hard in the weight room. I studied my playbook even more and I worked and worked on my technique.
“I just wanted to make a push for some quality playing time. I did what I could and here I am today.”
Today Marz is listed at 6 feet 5 inches and 321 pounds. He weighed 270 when he signed with UW in 2011.
“I haven't started a football game since my senior year in high school. That was three years ago,” said Marz, who also played basketball and baseball in high school. “And back in high school I played in front of a couple hundred people and now it is 80,000.
“There's definitely going to be some butterflies there. But from where I came from it is a dream come true. It's all I can really ask for.”
For the members of the secondary, which features three new starters, it is time to show that the unit won't be the Achilles' heel of what could be a stout defense.
“No one is going to be perfect, but we're going to be a very, very strong unit,” said senior safety Dezmen Southward, the lone returning starter in the secondary. “And we definitely don't consider ourselves the weak link.”
Andersen joked this week he made a pact with senior defensive end Pat Muldoon, who generally strays from the limelight, to come out of the tunnel this morning from the back of the pack.
Players first; head coach last.
“We'll come out together at the end of it, the two of us,” Andersen said. “I don't have rituals or superstitions, just line them up and let them go play.”
Andersen understands it is time to see what his first UW team can do.