With the eyes of Wisconsin sports fans fixated on this weekend's NCAA basketball tournament and WCHA playoffs, senior quarterback Scott Tolzien and the Wisconsin football team quietly began their spring practices this week.
After last year's hectic spring and fall practices which saw Tolzien emerge from relative anonymity to claim the starting quarterback job, the quiet is more than welcome. This year's practices will be more about building off the team's success in 2009 rather than finding replacements for departed seniors, with nine of 11 starters returning for the Badger offense. For Tolzien, the spring practices will also be about building on his new role as a team leader.
""I think with the role I had last year on the team and all the starts I got, I need to bring a little more leadership to the table because guys are looking for me to make plays, so I have to lead by example but also be more vocal too,"" Tolzien said.
And with leadership comes confidence. Having a full season under his belt in which he completed 64 percent of his passes and led the Badgers to a 10-3 record, including a victory over the heavily-favored Miami Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl, will certainly command increased respect in the locker room for Tolzien.
But also having a full offseason to focus on orchestrating the Badger offense to perfection and not worrying about beating two other players for a starting position, as he did before last season, will be a major boon for the junior signal caller.
""I've always been big on coming in and working hard every day and I don't think anything changes this year,"" Tolzien said. ""I've got one more season left and it's up to me to maximize that.""
After watching Tolzien through the first three practices of the spring, junior receiver Nick Toon said he is already noticing the results of Tolzien's offseason work.
""Confidence is the first thing that comes to mind,"" Toon said. ""[Tolzien] is 100 times more confident, I think he's developing a nice swagger in the pocket, and that's definitely going to carry over into the season.""
It certainly helps that Wisconsin is returning a bona fide starting quarterback for the first time since 2006, eliminating the need for skill players and offensive lineman to acclimate themselves to a new quarterback's style. Senior wide receiver Isaac Anderson attested to that benefit, saying this offseason gave him and Tolzien a chance to become more familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses by watching film and working out together.
Tolzien echoed Anderson on the importance of continuing to build team chemistry this offseason, which he said started in a much more festive mood than last year because of the bowl game victory.
""I think you can hit the ground running and you have a better taste in your mouth rather than a bitter taste after the Florida State game [in 2008],"" Tolzien said. ""But at the same time, this program is built on hard work and we've just got to keep up with that.""
Tolzien and Wisconsin have plenty of hard work to put in before their September 4 season opener at UNLV, but with an abundance of returning starters under the leadership of an experienced starting quarterback, they're already off to a great start.