Impressive Badgers senior class looks to go out with win

MADISON, Wis. — By almost any measure, Wisconsin’s
26-man senior class will go down as one of the most successful groups in the
history of Badgers football.

You want wins? The class can match the school record for
most victories in a four-year span (40) with a victory Saturday against Penn
State.

You want consistency? Wisconsin won three consecutive Big
Ten championships, played in three straight Rose Bowls and has a chance to play
in a fourth BCS game in as many years.

You want durability and longevity? Nose guard Beau Allen,
offensive lineman Ryan Groy, defensive end Ethan Hemer and safety Dezmen
Southward will play in the 53rd game of their careers Saturday, setting a
school record for most games played. Those four players have not missed a game
during their four years of eligibility.

You want character of players? Badgers senior linebacker
Chris Borland, the heart and soul of the defense, is a semifinalist for the
Lott IMPACT Trophy, in part, because he has volunteered 100 hours of community
service since May — more than double any other student-athlete at the school.
He also leads the team in tackles.

Nothing can take away any of these accomplishments as No. 15
Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1) prepares for its regular-season home finale against Penn
State (6-5, 3-4) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Members of the senior class recognize,
however, that in order to sustain their legacy — and leave the program on a
high note — a victory on senior day is paramount.

UW’s seniors have gone 25-2 at Camp Randall Stadium over the
last four seasons. But one of those losses occurred during last year’s senior
day, and it had a profound impact on how players viewed their season.

“You never want to lose for the senior class,”
Badgers senior tight end Jacob Pedersen said. “You always want to put them
out on top. They’ve been here. They’ve been leaders. They’ve helped you grow as
a player. They’ve always been there for you. That’s just like when you get
older, not taking care of your parents. You just want to be able to send them
out on top, and hopefully we can get it done this year.”

Southward said the team’s younger players took the loss
harder than the seniors because they believed they had let them down — a
feeling he hasn’t forgotten.

“We really did feel like we could have done a lot more
to help get our seniors a victory,” he said. “And that’s something I
hope our younger guys take into account when they take the field this week.
Play with their heart for us. And we’ll play with our heart. It’s not just
about the seniors. We’re going to play with our heart because we understand
this is a big game for our underclassmen as well.”

On Nov. 17, 2012, unbeaten Ohio State escaped with a 21-14
overtime victory in Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers were in the midst of
losing three times in four games before backing into the Big Ten championship
as the third-place Leaders Division team (Ohio State and Penn State were
ineligible for postseason play).

Wisconsin’s opportunity to play for another Big Ten title
this year is gone with Ohio State having clinched a spot, but the Badgers
cannot afford a loss to Penn State. At No. 15 in the BCS rankings, UW needs to
move up one spot to be considered for an at-large BCS bowl berth.

Badgers coach Gary Andersen said he expected an emotional
environment, both for himself and the seniors. The key would be putting aside
those emotions once the game began.

Andersen, in his first year as Wisconsin’s head coach,
recently was named one of 16 semifinalists for the Maxwell Football Club Coach
of the Year Award. He noted the team never would have experienced as much
success as it has without the senior class. The group’s willingness to embrace
a man it had never met before December allowed the team to thrive.

“I’ll forever be indebted to those kids for believing
in us,” Andersen said. “I truly do not remember a young man rolling
his eyes or saying, ‘What are we doing?’ Everybody changes, and there’s
different ways to run programs, and there is no perfect way. We just do what we
think is right and do what we preach with the kids as far as trying to take
care of them and helping them grow from young men to men and all the stuff that
I’ve talked about a thousand times.

“And these kids, they seemed to buy into us and believe
in us and know that what we do say, we mean, and because of that, that’s why
they’ve had the success they’ve had.”

Now, the seniors have one more day to play for themselves,
their teammates and their new coach. And one more successful day will give this
senior class its third unbeaten home season in the last four years.

“You want to send the seniors out the right way,”
Borland said. “We couldn’t get it done last year. It’s huge for that
reason and just for defending Camp Randall. You always want to play well at
home. I think we have a great home record traditionally. So there’s no shortage
of motivators for this week. I think we’ll get it done.”

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