Over the past two seasons, most of the attention for the Wisconsin football team went to its offense. From the running back-dominated offense in 2010 that averaged nearly 250 rushing yards per game, to the Russell Wilson-lead campaign that put up more than 44 points per contest, Wisconsin’s offense has been the team’s centerpiece.
Redshirt junior safety Dezmen Southward certainly does not want Wisconsin’s offensive production to decline, but he would like the defense to garner more headlines.
“I definitely want the defense to be a focal point, but the only way the defense can be a focal point is if we go out and we perform,” Southward said. “We have a long ways to go and we can get a lot better. I think that’s the big thing for everyone to realize.”
Southward and redshirt senior safety Shelton Johnson will form a duo in the secondary that head coach Bret Bielema has said could be the best combination of starting safeties during his time with the reins.
For many, such a statement would come with a vast amount of pressure. For Southward, it is simply Bielema’s vote of confidence.
“We’ve had some guys that have done a great job here. I think that’s a huge compliment, but at the same time we have to take it with a grain of salt,” Southward said. “We have to continue to get better. We haven’t done that in the game yet, so it really doesn’t mean nothing.”
Secondary coach Ben Strickland has been impressed with Southward and Johnson so far. Strickland said the safeties are mentally and physically on pace to live up to Bielema’s praise.
“I think they definitely both have the athletic ability, and they both are understanding the game better at this point than some of our safeties did last year,” Strickland said. “They have the potential to be [the best safety duo]. Now it’s just a matter of what they’re going to do with it and how they’re going to take it.”
Also a part of the Badgers’ secondary is freshman defensive back Hugs Etienne, who graduated high school early and is taking classes this spring. With spring practice in the books, the freshman has gotten his first real look at Wisconsin football.
“I really like how it’s run,” Etienne said. “Obviously practice is a whole lot different from high school, but I actually like how it’s run—you know, longer practices. You just got to get used to it.”
The touted recruit from Plantation, Fla., dislocated his left shoulder during the team’s scrimmage last weekend and will sit out the spring game. While the freshman won’t attract attention for his play Saturday, he hopes to have a big impact come this fall.
“Hugs: Don’t let the name fool you,” Etienne said. “It’s a sweet name, but on the football field it’s a different story.”