In a program that prioritizes experience, you rarely see a true freshman crack the opening week depth chart, let alone earn a starting spot. That’s why it was so surprising to see freshman outside linebacker Nick Herbig listed as a co-starter for the Badgers in the team’s depth chart for the upcoming game against Illinois.
Herbig was no typical recruit for this Badger team. Wisconsin prides itself on its strong recruiting footprint in the midwest, and many of the team’s outstanding linebacking alumni were homegrown: Joe Schobert, Zack Baun and T.J. Watt were all in-state recruits. Herbig, on the other hand, hails from Hawaii, where he was named High School Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.
Herbig, a four-star recruit, starred for state powerhouse St. Louis in Hawaii, who cruised to a state championship in 2019. They closed the year on ESPN2 against Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, and although St. Louis fell 35-19, Herbig flashed his potential, blocking a punt and recording three sacks in the game.
Hawaii’s top high school talent traditionally moves on to play in the Pac-12, and Herbig’s brother, Nate, was no exception. Nate starred on the offensive line for Stanford and now starts at guard for the Philadelphia Eagles. Many prognosticators expected Nick, who was heavily recruited by the Cardinals, to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
Instead, Herbig spurned Stanford and the other traditional west coast powerhouses for Wisconsin, where he was allured by the Badger’s penchant for developing NFL caliber linebackers.
“I really only thought it was like, T.J. Watt, but we sat down and we looked at it, and there were like nine linebackers that are in the league right now from Wisconsin,” Herbig told The Athletic when he committed to the Badgers. “And I was like, ‘Damn. They put, like, two linebackers into the league every year.’ It was just crazy to me, and it didn’t matter who was the coach. They just produced.”
“Nick is a really mature football player that understands the game well, he plays fast, he's physical," Bobby April, the team’s linebacker coach, told the media. "I love where he is trending. He's a guy that's got everything we're looking for. He's smart, tough, dependable and he checks all three boxes."
Defensive Line Coach Inoke Breckenfield was much more concise in his summary of Herbig’s performance to date.
“Nick Herbig is really doing his thing in fall camp,” said Breckenfield.
Praise for Herbig extends past coachspeak. Herbig’s teammates in the front seven all pointed to him as one of the best performers in camp.
“He’s been just absolutely tearing it up,” said defensive end Isaiah Loudermilk. “He’s going to be a guy who’s a special talent.”
“I think the biggest thing with Nick is he’s got such a high motor,” added linebacker Noah Burks. “The guy just never stops. He doesn’t want to ever stay blocked or anything,”
That motor has been rewarded in Wisconsin’s first depth chart. Herbig will rotate with junior Izayah Green-May at outside linebacker to begin the season, which will make him part of a very exclusive group of true freshman contributors. Since 2017, only three true freshmen have been full-time starters for Wisconsin: RB Jonathan Taylor, WR Danny Davis and DT Keeanu Benton. If Herbig plays anywhere close to their level, Badgers fans are in for a treat.