MADISON - The Wisconsin walk-on tradition has worked wonders for the program throughout the past decade. Guys such as Jim Leonhard, Chris Maragos and even J.J. Watt all started their career as walk-on players. This year's team alone has two starting walk-ons in Jared Abbrederis and Ethan Hemer.
BadgerBlitz.com had the chance to catch up with one of them following Wednesday's practice. The following is a question and answer with Hemer.
Three games in, how are you playing?
Hemer: I feel like I'm playing pretty solid. Obviously there's room to improve in every aspect. I'm happy with my play but not content.
What are some of those areas that you'd like to improve?
Hemer: Overall, I think that there are strengths and weaknesses for every person. For me, personally, I'd like to work on shedding a little bit more and getting in the backfield a little better.
When the coaches talk about the film, break it down and grade you guys out, have you been grading out pretty well as a defensive line, and in particular the defensive tackles?
Hemer: Yeah, we've been a solid group. We're trying to be more than that, though. It's hard to complain with the success we've been having. At the same time, when you get complacent is when you get passed by.
So are you surprised at all by the way you guys have been playing?
Hemer: No, not at all. I knew we had a very dependable, strong group on this team. I fully expected us to play like that.
If there is one thing over the past number of years, at least with the defensive tackles, you guys have been stout with it's been stopping the run. Teams just don't run the ball against you guys that well. Are you happy with the way you guys have gotten back there and disrupted some things in the pass game?
Hemer: Absolutely. Especially in a league like the Big Ten when it's such a run heavy league. Stopping the run is crucial, but to get some pressure from the defensive tackle spot is huge and can only help our defense.
Coach Bret Bielema talked earlier this week about the loss of J.J. Watt. He talked about trying to replace that production and maybe having to do it collectively. Is that a fair assessment?
Hemer: Yeah, J.J. was a fantastic talent. Nobody can replace J.J., but as a whole I feel like we've got guys that can step up and be erasers all over the field.
How welcoming is it for you when you've got eight, nine or sometimes 10 guys that can rotate in there that can play at a pretty high level?
Hemer: It's great. It's a big positive for us as a group. Obviously everybody wants to get more production and more reps, but I think we all understand in the grand scheme of things, when you've got a bunch of guys that can contribute that's definitely a positive for us.
You guys haven't been tested in the fourth quarter, but that's where it's going to show up isn't it?
Hemer: I feel like having depth at that position is something that can only help us.
What do you know about South Dakota?
Hemer: I know they're a bunch of hard-nosed kids that will play tough and are going to make the most of the opportunity that's given to them.
It's one of those things where they don't get to play on a stage like this that often, they don't get to play on TV, especially on the Big Ten Network, do you expect them to just come in and leave it all out there?
Hemer: Yeah, absolutely. That's a team, like you said, that's not given a ton of opportunities. When they get a big stage to play on I can only imagine what's going through their head. I'm sure they're going to try to make the most of it.