MADISON, Wis. — On one of the first truly unpleasant days of October in Madison, where the high was 57 degrees and rain persisted throughout the day, Wisconsin outside linebacker Garret Dooley was more than content playing in the elements.
“This is perfect football weather,” Dooley said after practice on Wednesday. “As football players, this is something that we really enjoy especially as defenses. We just bring some energy to it.”
The 247-pound redshirt junior from Rochester, Ill. will start this weekend for injured outside linebacker Vince Biegel, who had surgery on a cracked right foot two weeks prior.
Dooley had his first career start in Ann Arbor where the Badgers lost 14-7. He had a career-high seven tackles and one sack.
“I had a slow start obviously missing that sack on the first play of the game. That was a little rough, but it’s the next play mentality. You can’t think about the past. You can’t do anything about it. After that first series, I kind of got into the flow of things and after that it’s just playing football.”
Dooley played in 11 games in 2015, earning first letter in his redshirt sophomore season. He had three tackles with two being against Rutgers on Oct. 31, 2015. Despite seeing some field time, starting against Michigan in the ‘Big House’ was a different experience for Dooley.
“I had obviously never been in that position before. I just had to keep my head that I was going to be out there on the first play of defense,” Dooley said. “I think people like Vince Biegel, T.J. Watt, they helped me stay with that right mentality.”
Biegel, who has nine tackles and one sack five games into the season, continues to be a source of advice for Dooley despite his absence on the field. Dooley called Biegel a vocal person, someone who always wants to be in the conversation.
“He says play fast, be who you are, don’t try to be somebody else,” Dooley said. “It’s definitely been very nice having Vince by my side still.”
The linebacking corps as a whole has had an impressive first five games with playmakers in outside linebackers Biegel and T.J. Watt and inside linebackers Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards. The younger players, including Dooley, consistently work with the starters in practice, and the unit is a tight-knit group.
“I would say a good word would be hard-nosed, gritty,” Dooley said of the unit. “We just want to go out there and hit somebody. It’s like me, T.J., Cichy, T.J. Edwards, Leon Jacobs, whoever it is all we want to do is go out there and make plays and play fast and just be a heck of a defense.”
Dooley’s counterpart, Watt, who has consistently shown high defensive playmaking, had 11 tackles including two for a loss and one sack against Michigan. Dooley said that working opposite Watt has been a natural dynamic for the two, especially with their years of playing together.
“T.J.’s a very goofy guy, so we kind of share that quality with each other. We can joke around,” Dooley said.
Both Watt and Cichy were impressed with Dooley’s first start for Biegel. Watt stressed on Monday the confidence that the entire linebacking unit has in all their players whether starters or second or third string. Cichy called the loss of Biegel an obvious hit but stressed that Dooley didn’t just fill in for the NFL prospect Biegel, but actually added new elements to the unit.
“Dools [Dooley] has stepped up tremendously, and it’s not like he hadn’t practiced with us at all,” Cichy said. “He’s a great asset and we can use him in a couple ways that maybe we couldn’t use Vince and he’s really rose to the occasion.”
After a bye week where Dooley returned home to visit his family, he is prepared and excited to have his first start back home at Camp Randall. Wednesday after practice he said that the entire team is not only rested after the bye but full of electricity for this week’s night game against No. 2 Ohio State.
The key for Dooley heading into his second career start is discipline. With on offense full of playmakers in Ohio State, every defensive player must do their 1/11th. “Keeping our head, knowing our job and doing that correctly,” Dooley said are the three components to successful defensive play on Saturday.
Nerves will not be an issue for Dooley under the bright lights of Camp Randall on Saturday.
“I think now that I have a start under my belt, especially at a place like the ‘Big House,’ I think it’ll help me calm my nerves a little bit. I’ve been there before. It’s nothing new. I just have to go out there, play fast, have fun, play football.”
Photo from M.P. King, Wisconsin State Journal.