Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst and three UW football players expressed excitement and anticipation for the upcoming football season at the annual Big Ten Media Day in Chicago on Tuesday.
With 12 days until the start of fall camp and 38 days until the Badgers opener at Lambeau Field against LSU, the Wisconsin football team expressed a great sense of confidence in their abilities to go far this season despite the loss of key playmakers, a grueling schedule and new coaching changes.
Chryst addressed the media Tuesday morning at the Big Ten Media Day with the overarching statement: “We are ready.”
The Badgers’ 2016 schedule has been openly critiqued by football analysts and fans as a setup for loss for the Badger team. Chryst and three key players in attendance, outside linebacker Vince Biegel, running back Dare Ogunbowale, and cornerback Sojourn Shelton, dismissed this notion.
“We are excited about the challenges of the schedule we have because that’s a great opportunity,” Chryst said in his Tuesday press conference. “I appreciate what the kids have done, the work that they’ve put in and certainly looking forward to starting fall camp.”
When talking with Big Ten Network alongside teammates Biegel and Shelton, Ogunbowale said, “The big thing I’ve noticed throughout the summer is a sense of confidence. It’s shaping up to be a special season.”
The Badgers season kicks off the season with a marquee game against LSU at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI, the third consecutive season opener not at Camp Randall Stadium for the Badgers. With many of the Badger players being from Wisconsin, however, playing at Lambeau Field holds more significance and may give more of a drive in that challenging opening game on Sept. 3.
“It’s the trifecta,” Chryst said of the LSU game.
Not only is the season opener exciting for the players because it’s the start of football and the beginning of players being able to showcase their skills, but it is also being played in the mecca of football, Lambeau Field, against a good team in the LSU Tigers.
When talking with the Big Ten Network, Shelton was asked about his Lambeau Leap he tested out when the Badgers practiced at the Don Hutson Center in Green Bay this past spring.
“I’ve seen better,” Ogunbowale joked.
Ogunbowale, a Wisconsin native from Milwaukee and Packers fan, critiqued his own Lambeau Leap as well, saying the whole team needs to practice.
Rest assured, though, “We’ll have it perfected before we get there,” he said.
Chryst and Badger players also addressed the heavily watched quarterback competition between senior Bart Houston and sophomore Alex Hornibrook. The two are fighting for the starting position after former starting quarterback Joel Stave was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Minnesota Vikings.
Chryst said in his press conference he still has not made a decision on the starting quarterback, but it will be announced sometime during fall camp.
“Our job is to make sure both of them are ready to play and play well in the first game,” Chryst said.
Ogunbowale also praised both quarterbacks and their improvements made during summer training.
“We have confidence in both of them,” the senior running back said.
Shelton expressed confidence in senior quarterback Bart Houston, who saw playing time last fall after Stave went down in the October game against Illinois.
“Bart can make any throw,” Shelton said. “He’s a quarterback that has a cannon.”
Chryst also addressed the coaching changes this season, the biggest one being the addition of Justin Wilcox as defensive coordinator. Of the new coaching changes, Chryst said that it has been an easy transition for the players.
“Expect the same thing from the Wisconsin defense,” Biegel said of the upcoming season with the arrival of Wilcox.
“Just with little fun creepers on third down,” he added with a wink.
The Badgers under former defensive coordinator Dave Arranda excelled at defense and that is not expected to change going into the 2016 season.
Ogunbowale also gave a shout out to “the dog pound” of his running back core. After running back Corey Clement got injured in the 2015 season, Ogunbowale became the main running back for the team. This year, Clement rejoins Ogunbowale as well as sophomore Taiwan Deal and fullbacks Alec Ingold and Austin Ramesh. The goal, according to Chryst, is to be even deeper at the position.
At the beginning of his press conference Chryst also expressed his condolences to the families of former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler and Nebraska punter Sam Foltz. In the tragedy of the two players’ deaths, he also expressed how players affect and impact their coaches.
“We as coaches certainly hope to and want to impact our student-athletes,” Chryst said. “But we are really impacted in so many different ways by the young men we get to coach.”
Referring to Ogunbowale, Biegel and Shelton, he went on to say, “These guys have impacted me in a short time.”
The players expressed similar thoughts of their head coach of two years.
“He’s a player’s coach,” Shelton said.
Biegel, known by his teammates as a leader, said of his coach, “He’s a Wisconsin guy through and through, and he understands what Wisconsin football is all about.”
Photo from University of Wisconsin Athletics.