MADISON — Every spring, football begins to rear its way back into the forefront of everyone’s minds. Any pertinent position battle is always the hot topic of the offseason.
Something often overlooked is the culture of the team. Last season, head coach Paul Chryst got the team to buy in to the “one game, one practice” at a time mentality. It was the most necessary intangible aspect of last year’s surprise Cotton Bowl Champion team.
As the team navigated a non-conference schedule that was fairly easy (except LSU, of course) the team could have easily looked forward and focused on the pending toughest conference schedule in years. The likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State were looming just down the road.
But instead, the Badgers were able to lock in and focus on games like Akron and Georgia State. It was this intangible that allowed individual athletes to come together as a team that consistently defied expectations week by week, practice by practice.
With the vast majority of last year’s team still on this year’s roster, that culture will hopefully carry over.
“We got a lot of guys who were with us last year,” Chryst said. “Spring is set up so different as far as being on the field but I think the group has been good just about taking advantage of each day.”
The biggest difference will be what roles those players take on this year. Running back Bradrick Shaw and cornerback Derrick Tindal will have vastly different roles, and with that come responsibilities to lead and up hold the culture.
“I mean everyone, you got to learn from your experiences and all but seven guys in spring lived last year. Now, everyone has a different role, you know, as each new year begins, new roles emerge,” Chryst said. “But I think they’ve done a good job at how they’ve approached spring.”
But for Chryst’s part, he has stayed steady and consistently preached to the players the importance of the play in front of them, the practice in front of them.
The steadiness that Chryst brings was huge in the success of Wisconsin football. After seeing three head coaches in three seasons, the Badgers can be sure that Chryst is in for the long hall. This adds credibility that amplifies the culture.
“Coach Chryst tells us every day of practice to tell us that day is over and we just have to take advantage of the next opportunities we have, and that is what a lot of guys are doing so far out here,” Shaw said.
The players have heeded his words, and the culture has leaked from something that could have been a mere façade and translated into the individual work ethic of all the players on the team.
“I mean, just for myself, I try to just go to practice and like ‘ok, what did I do this practice that I need to work on next practice,'” said wide receiver George Rushing. “It was just one big thing that Coach Chryst talks about it all the time, just take it one play at a time, one practice at a time. Because if you try to look to far ahead, you’ll get ahead of yourself and you just have to focus on that next play.”
Every team has their mottos, goals and team values, but the Badgers seemingly all buy in and take the message to heart.
It is very early in the offseason, but this team is picking up right where the last one left off. Buying in was a huge reason for the success of the 2016 Badgers football team, and it seems like it could very easily be a key to the success of the 2017 Badgers football team.