Right guard Kevin Zeitler vowed he was going to change.
Zeitler might be the ultimate grinder on the University of Wisconsin football team. Even at a position known for guys with unyielding work ethics, Zeitler is in a world of his own.
Few players put in more time after practice, watch more film or are more critical of their play.
Zeitler works so tirelessly and has such a reserved personality his teammates jokingly refer to him as a robot. When a reporter mentioned an interview with Zeitler last season, former UW left guard John Moffitt said, “Did you speak binary code?”
With the Badgers preparing to play in the Rose Bowl last season, Zeitler vowed to cut himself some slack and try to enjoy the journey.
So how did that work out?
“Well, as far as being easier on myself, no,” Zeitler said.
Some things never change — and maybe that’s a good thing.
The Badgers go into this season having to replace two All-Americans on the left side of the offensive line in Moffitt and tackle Gabe Carimi. But the expectations won’t change. Zeitler, a senior from Waukesha who attended Wisconsin Lutheran, will see to that.
UW averaged a school-record 41.5 points per game last season behind one of the best lines in UW history.
“Wisconsin is an O-line school,” Zeitler said. “There’s a tradition and a standard set. Everyone who is playing knows that standard. They realize you can’t slack, you can’t drop.”
No one worries about Zeitler slacking. During spring practices, he spent six and seven hours a day at the football facilities, dragging young players with him to watch video.
“It’s ridiculous how hard I am” on myself, Zeitler said. “I can watch film and think I had the worst practice ever, but when we get the (offensive line coach Bob) Bostad comment sheet, there’s just a few things.”
Having two high-profile teammates probably cost Zeitler the chance to get more recognition after last season, when he was an All-Big Ten honorable mention pick.
“I’ve told a lot of people, he’s probably the most overlooked guy we’ve got,” Bostad said.
Zeitler has not allowed a sack in his career, a statistic coach Bret Bielema consistently mentions.
“I’m proud of it, but when people find out about it, they’re going to start trying to kick my (butt),” Zeitler said.
The only open job on the line going into preseason camp is right tackle. Junior Ricky Wagner, who started 10 games at right tackle a year ago, and sophomore Travis Frederick, who was redshirted, look like capable replacements for Carimi and Moffitt, respectively.
Junior center Pete Konz could be UW’s next great lineman and his outgoing personality assures he also will be the center of attention.
That leaves right tackle, where 345-pound redshirt freshman Rob Havenstein emerged from the spring as No. 1. But he will have to hold off senior Josh Oglesby, a former starter who is returning from knee surgery.
“Robbie’s done a nice job of showing he’s a viable option,” Bostad said. “To me, that’s been a bright spot, to watch him develop and grow.”