If O'Brien Schofield isn't a household name among Wisconsin football fans yet, then they simply have not been paying attention.
The 6'3"", 248-pound defensive end has wreaked havoc on opposing offensive backfields so far this season, racking up 6.5 tackles for a loss and 18 total tackles in two games. To put it in perspective, Schofield recorded only 8.5 tackles for a loss and 40 total tackles for all of the 2008 season.
After Saturday's game, head coach Bret Bielema praised Schofield's hard work and dedication that has produced his vast improvement this season.
""[Schofield] has built himself up from an outside linebacker to a defensive end to a guy that probably got from where he was a year ago at this time to where he is today, being maybe a weakness to one of our biggest strengths,"" Bielema said.
But the path to success is never an easy one, and Schofield's case is no exception.
After tallying 99 tackles and 11 sacks his senior year at North Chicago Community High School in Great Lakes, Ill., Schofield arrived at Wisconsin in the fall of 2005 to find out he would be playing linebacker for the first time in his life. To learn the intricacies of his new position, he took a redshirt his freshman year.
Schofield struggled to learn the different terminologies of the linebacker position and switched back to defensive end following the 2006 season. He then spent much of the 2007 season refining his game against the towering Wisconsin offensive linemen on the scout team, to whom the senior captain still attributes much of his success.
""Just having the advantage of going against those 6-6 guys, some teams we play aren't as big as our scout team lineman, so that's a big plus,"" Schofield said.
Schofield finally earned his first start in the 2007 Outback Bowl against Tennessee when both Wisconsin starting defensive ends went down with injuries. He impressed the coaching staff enough to merit the starting job heading into the 2008 season, though concerns over his lean build for a defensive end soon materialized as he struggled against Big Ten offensive linemen.
But Schofield's struggles only motivated him to push harder, and he worked relentlessly throughout last season and this offseason to make himself a more complete player.
A practitioner in humility, he credits coaches and team leaders for helping elevate his game more than anything.
""Just being a follower and following the right guys and listening to the coaches, because all they try and do is help you,"" Schofield said. ""You have to be able to take criticism even when you don't like it.""
The hard work and dedication is apparent in watching Schofield terrorize opposing running backs and strike fear into the hearts of quarterbacks. Just ask Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, who couldn't even hand the ball off on a key fourth quarter play against Wisconsin before Schofield bulldozed him to the ground. The play forced a fumble and should have ended the game, but the referees botched the call.
Schofield took home the co-defensive MVP for the game after finishing with seven tackles and a sack, but accolades only mean so much to him. Having the confidence and trust of his team, on the other hand, means much more.
""To have the respect of my teammates and the coaches believe in me that I can lead this team, it means a lot,"" Schofield said. ""I'm just trying to play my hardest and be an example for my teammates, and hopefully they follow my lead.""