ORLANDO, Fla. -- University of Wisconsin defensive line coach Charlie Partridge's playing career was categorized by two things: fundamentals and effort.
It's hard to believe to see him now, but Partridge was a 280-pound defensive tackle during his playing days at Drake.
"I would have loved to see him play," sophomore defensive tackle Patrick Butrym said. "He was probably pretty fiery back then.
"We've seen pictures. He had a shaved head. He might have had an earring. He didn't have a tat, but he would have been a perfect guy for a tattoo."
Partridge, who turned 36 earlier this month, has made a big impact in his two years as defensive line coach for the Badgers.
He took a group last year dominated by three senior starters, survived an incredible amount of injuries in the spring and had his group playing at a consistently high level throughout the season.
This year, he had to rebuild most of the line and bring along some players without a lot of playing experience. He has turned his group into the strength of an improved defense.
It's a group led by senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection who is tied for second nationally with 22½ tackles for loss. The Badgers also did not allow a single Big Ten opponent to rush for 100 yards.
"Nobody thought we were going to be anything," sophomore defensive end J.J. Watt said of having to replace starters Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman. "Everybody kind of wrote off our D-line and said it was our weakness.
"We have O.B., he's an All-American candidate. Our defensive line not allowing a team to rush for 100 yards in the Big Ten, coach Partridge deserves a lot of credit for that. He's really done that for us."
Partridge's emphasis on fundamentals and effort go back to his playing days.
"Because I'm short in stature, that's what these guys live with every day," Partridge said of his players. "I had to be good technically, even at that level, or I would have gotten killed.
"I worked hard in the weight room, played with a lot of anger. That was how I played. A technician who played with a lot of anger."
Love the Drake
Partridge was a three-year starter, team captain and a teammate of UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren at Drake in the early 1990s. Doeren arrived as a linebacker but quickly learned there was a better player in front of him who was only a sophomore. After beating up most of the tight ends he went against in blocking drills, Doeren went in the coach's office and asked to move to tight end.
After playing under Rob Ash, now the head coach at Montana State, Partridge and Doeren also started their college coaching careers at their alma maters.
"Rob Ash really understood how to make it an enjoyable experience," Partridge said. "We were paying to go to school there, we weren't on full scholarship. The balance he had was to make it enjoyable but still work hard so we could win.
"When we were done with our careers, we looked back and had very enjoyable college experiences. That's what keeps you in (football). If you don't have that experience, then you walk away and you burn on it and never look back other than maybe watching a game."
Partridge thought he wanted to be a high school football coach and teacher. But after doing that for a year, he was hired at Drake as a graduate assistant in 1996 and '97. He coached running backs and also served as strength and conditioning coach.
Doeren also spent a year coaching at the high school level before returning to Drake in 1995 to coach linebackers. He became the defensive coordinator in 1997.
The two coaches share not only a friendship, but an appreciation of what it takes to start a coaching career at what was formerly known as Division I-AA. They were on nine-month contracts at the time, so they worked for the physical plant and mowed grass in the mornings in the summer. Doeren also worked as a cook at a Mexican restaurant at night.
"It teaches you to be thankful for what you have," Doeren said. "A lot of people play D-I ball and they're lucky enough to walk in as a D-I coach and they don't go through what we went through.
"We lined the fields. Shoot, we drove the team bus. I had a commercial driver's license. I drove 16 hours to Evansville, Indiana, and then coached a ballgame. That's just how you did it. I didn't know any different. As I moved up, I look at some of the things people think are hard here, I'm like, 'You've got no idea.' "
Partridge still jokes about a crummy basement apartment Doeren lived in during that time in Des Moines, Iowa, behind a 7-Eleven, with a shower too small to stand up in.
"He literally had to sit on a stool to take a shower," Partridge said. "It's those little things you look back and we kind of laugh at right now."
Yet, it could not have been a better training ground for two rising coaches.
"That was the best place in the world to be trained as a coach because you literally had to do it all," Doeren said. "You had to break down your own tape. There were no GAs, we didn't have a secretary. If something had to be done, you did it."
Repeat after me
Partridge and Doeren went their separate ways in 1998, Partridge as a graduate assistant at Iowa State and Doeren as a GA at Southern California.
They had a chance to be reunited in Bret Bielema's first season as head coach at UW in 2006. Doeren was hired as co-defensive coordinator and Bielema tried to hire Partridge, who elected to stay at Pittsburgh. Two years later, Bielema took another run at Partridge and got him to join the staff as defensive line coach.
Partridge puts such a premium on technique work in practice, it used to drive the players nuts until they started seeing the results on Saturdays.
"Every single day, we do the exact same drills, in the exact same order," Watt said. "Every day we get pretty bored with it. But (Partridge) knows, if we don't take care of our technique every single day, the rest of our game is not going to flourish.
"He knows it starts from the bottom and building a foundation and off of that you can build other things."
Watt is a good example of what happens when physical talent and fundamentals come together. He spent one year as a tight end at Central Michigan before transferring to UW.
In only his second year as a defensive end, and first as a starter, he has blossomed into a budding star. He has 41 total tackles and his 13½ tackles for loss are second on the team to Schofield. Watt already regards Partridge as one of the two most influential coaches of his life, along with his prep football coach at Pewaukee, Clay Iverson.
"Only having one year to learn the defensive line (before starting), coach Partridge helped me out tremendously," Watt said. "I definitely see (the impact) this year in my play and, hopefully, in the next couple years I'll get even better.
"I don't feel 100 percent in any of my techniques yet, but I'm definitely getting a lot closer and coach Partridge gets the credit for that."
Partridge doesn't like when the attention focuses on him for the improved play on the defensive line.
"I don't want to take credit for anything," he said. "These kids have really bought in, they've done a great job of working hard on the things I believe in and, thankfully, kids have made some good plays. Credit goes to how hard they've worked."
No one has been happier than Doeren at being reunited with his former teammate.
"He's just a great technician," Doeren said. "He demands his guys play the right way from an attitude standpoint. The way he wants his players to be as people, the way he carries himself, he backs it up when he says it.
"His guys have done nothing but get better. That's what you want, a player that improves all the time. He's done a tremendous job."