MADISON - Win, lose or draw the week before, there is no question the Wisconsin football team will be amped to play the Gophers come game time. This Saturday's game, a homecoming affair, is no different.
For the seniors, it's an opportunity to finish the entirety of their collegiate career with Paul Bunyan's Axe. For the freshmen, it's an opportunity to become involved in the longest running rivalry in all of college football.
Not beating around the bush, BadgerBlitz.com asked a number of key players what this game means to them.
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Freshman James White on what he knows about the rivalry:
"It should be a good experience. I know this program and Minnesota have a lot of tradition and things like that with the Paul Bunyan Axe. We have the video's playing of the wins everyday in the locker room, so it's just getting to see what that victory feels like. We're all going out there and we're anxious to get out on the field and get another win."
Junior J.J. Watt on keeping the Axe:
"It's a big deal. The No. 1 thing the Axe represents a victory, so that's 1-0 on the schedule. But it also means that Wisconsin beat Minnesota. I'm pretty sure no one on Minnesota's team has ever touched the Axe and we'd like to keep it that way. Being from Wisconsin, knowing the history behind Paul Bunyan's Axe, I believe Minnesota has the upper hand in the overall record so we're just trying to close that gap as much as possible."
Senior Lance Kendricks on what the game means to him:
"It means a lot. It's a fun game because I know a couple of players over there. Just having the Axe here the whole time I've been here means a lot and it's something you've got to be proud of."
Jay Valai on the rivalry:
"The Axe game, it's one of our biggest games of the year. Minnesota's coming in here, it's going to be a live and exciting and crazy atmosphere on Saturday. So if you're not ready, this game's always going to be a close game. Minnesota was one and whatever, 11, a couple years ago and that game came down to the end, too. So we've got to be ready for a Minnesota team that's going to be hungry for a victory."
Senior David Gilreath on what the rivalry means to him:
"I just know it's the last one. As a freshman you can look at it like a good rivalry, but I didn't know much about it at the time. But just being in the game a few times it doesn't matter what their record is, it's always going to be a great game. I think they prepare for this game all year long. I think they were making comments about this game even after their Northwestern loss. You can tell they put a big emphasis on this game throughout the year."
Kendricks on hoisting the Axe after a win:
It's fun. I didn't get to hold it up last year because I wasn't a senior, but I'm sure it would be fun running around with it. Trophy games are the best, especially rivalry trophy games. I'm sure it will be a fun game and a good time."
Junior Aaron Henry on what this game is about:
"Of course it's about the Axe. The Minnesota comparison game is kind of like the Florida State-Miami game for me, being a Florida guy myself. This is a huge game for everybody, and I didn't really realize the significance of it until I got here. This is a very, very big game and it's not just about that Axe. The Axe represents a win, but it's about bragging rights, it's about going out there and beating that opponent. That's pretty much what it boils down to."
Senior Isaac Anderson on what the rivalry means to him.
"Since I've been here we've definitely had the Axe on our side and I just want to keep it there. That's the first thing I'll say. Definitely my parents, they graduated from the U of M. My dad played football there and my mom ran track. They're usually duel fans this game. We've been talking it up since last year and we've got a lot of family coming up and things like that, but this game definitely means a lot.
"Just the opportunity to play in this game when people before you, my dad, have played in this game. That's just another opportunity for my family to be represented on Saturday and playing for that Axe. It's definitely just being part of that history in college football, playing for the Axe and being able to battle for the Axe."
Henry on what it would be like to see Minnesota with the Axe:
"It's kind of like, and I think coach Dave Doeren made the analogy, somebody running into your house and sitting on your couch. They don't know you and their taking the remote from you and turning your TV. That's disrespectful. The Axe, although it has two sides to it, we want it to stay on this side."
Senior Scott Tolzien on what the game means to him:
"Like I said earlier one of the first things you learn, whether you're from the state or not, is that you learn how big the rivalry is and how much it means to both the people in Wisconsin and the program. It's a big game. The philosophy has always got to be it's the next game, but there's definitely a sense of pride and history and tradition that kind of builds it up and makes it a special game."
Valai on the humiliation of losing the Axe:
"A couple of years ago when we lost to Iowa and they had that pig, and they ran on our sideline and getting bumped by fans on the field, it was just a disgusting feeling. It is what it is, but we don't want to have that feeling. I know a lot of our guys are motivated not to ever have that feeling."