Michael Trotter, Badgers football

Michael Trotter will make his first career start for the University of Wisconsin football team on Saturday, playing against Utah State at strong safety in place of the injured Shelton Johnson.

ROSS LaDUE — UW Athletics

Sophomore Michael Trotter had one piece of business to take care of this week prior to making his first start at strong safety for the University of Wisconsin football team.

As of Wednesday night, Trotter had yet to tell his parents back in Racine he was starting against Utah State on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

They could probably figure it out, given senior Shelton Johnson will be out for up to six weeks with a broken arm suffered last week against Oregon State.

"I don't know if they know," Trotter said of being a starter. "That's just my personality, I don't let things get to me. I just kind of keep that stuff to myself."

Trotter's low-key approach to his first start could be a good sign for the Badgers, who will be without one of their most experienced leaders in the secondary for likely half of the Big Ten Conference season.

The secondary also has been without nickel back Peniel Jean, a sophomore who suffered a broken foot prior to the opener. When the Badgers go to their nickel defense against the Aggies' spread offense, they will have almost no experience among the backups.

The good news is Trotter is so diligent in his preparation, defensive coordinator Chris Ash referred to him as "Mr. Reliable," noting he "knows his assignments inside and out."

"My gut (says) he'll handle the situation," Ash said. "Trotter's a very mature individual, works extremely hard. He doesn't get flustered by a whole lot. I wouldn't anticipate any wide eyes or nervousness."

Trotter got 21 plays last week after Johnson was injured and had a third-down sack on a blitz on one of his first snaps. "It really gave us some momentum and juice we needed," Ash said.

While several teammates congratulated him on the big play, Trotter took it in stride as doing his job and said people are emphasizing it too much.

"In my point of view, I just think of it as another play," he said. "I did my best, I made a play. I have many more plays I need to make for this defense to be successful."

At one point, Trotter was viewed as the eventual replacement to Aaron Henry at free safety. The former Milwaukee Marquette athlete had a chance to play as a true freshman in 2010 but showed up with mononucleosis and redshirted.

He was thrown in as the backup to Henry the following spring but suffered a hamstring injury the third day of camp. His twin brother, middle linebacker Marcus Trotter, suffered a hamstring injury the previous day, something UW coach Bret Bielema still teases them about.

"I remember, I was like, 'Dang, (Marcus) got hurt,'" Trotter said. "The next day I was like, 'Dang, I got hurt.'"

The injury limited Trotter's speed and he didn't get fully healthy until about midway through the season. By then, most of the roles were set and Dezmen Southward was the backup to both safety positions. Trotter was the fourth safety and got most of his playing time on special teams.

That gave Southward a big leg up this season. He replaced Henry at free safety, while Trotter became the primary backup at both spots. His playing time last week at strong safety came after almost no practice time at the position.

Trotter said strong safety is a little more difficult to play, "just because you're in run 'fits' more often. Free safety, you're kind of just back (in the middle of the field)."

In UW's defense, being in the wrong spot usually means giving up a big play, which has been a recurring theme. The Badgers have allowed eight plays of 20 or more yards in two games — all in the passing game.

"That's the thing with our defense, it's one man, one gap," Trotter said. "If you're not in your (gap) that's the reason why we give up big plays — not because the offense got us, but because we got ourselves."

Utah State has a dangerous quarterback in sophomore Chuckie Keeton, who threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 86 yards last week in the upset of Utah. The Aggies use a lot of motions and unbalanced formations.

Trotter has one of the highest grade-point averages on the team (3.7 cumulative) and has been spending extra time this week watching video with Johnson.

"I take school really seriously," Trotter said. "I do the same kind of studying with football."

Trotter insisted he is not nervous about starting and didn't expect that to change prior to kickoff. He's so focused on getting prepared for the game, he joked about not talking to his parents before then. "Maybe I can surprise them at the game," he said.