The University of Wisconsin football team’s recent coaching change might have been most unsettling on the talented junior class.
Among the returning players, the juniors are the ones with the most time invested in the program and the ones who can least afford any bumps in the process while adjusting to all of the changes.
So, there was a time after coach Bret Bielema departed for Arkansas and before former Utah State coach Gary Andersen was hired that junior left guard Ryan Groy was nervous.
“I think for the younger guys, it can be a nice transition,” Groy said. “New coaches, new techniques and things like that.
“For us (juniors), it makes us a little nervous, because you don’t know (Andersen’s) coaching style yet. Then again, you have to trust coach (Barry) Alvarez and who he brings in and what he knows.”
Amidst all of that uncertainty, Groy is one of four juniors known to have put their names into the NFL for a draft evaluation. The others are center Travis Frederick, linebacker Chris Borland and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.
All of the players said they were simply following the normal procedure for top juniors.
“I would just like to know where I stand,” Borland said. “I haven’t gotten the evaluation back yet, but I think it’s an important move for a senior-to-be to make.”
None of the players said he made the decision due to the coaching transition, but that adds another element to the upcoming decisions all four must make.
Not only did all four players lose their head coach, but their position coaches as well — although there is a chance offensive line coach Bart Miller will be considered for the tight ends job.
“I was nervous when coach (Bielema) left,” Groy said. “I wasn’t sure where this place was going to go and (what would happen to) coach Miller.”
Groy’s nerves have since settled, since he got a chance to meet Andersen and speak briefly with him.
“Those (concerns) are settled,” Groy said. “Coach Andersen is a great guy. I was excited when they brought in a player’s coach, someone you want to play for. That’s always been my philosophy, I don’t like playing for a dictator.”
All four players said they are focused on the Rose Bowl at this point and not their pending NFL decisions. The Badgers leave Christmas Day for Pasadena, Calif., and face Stanford on Jan. 1.
“We’ll see when that (NFL) road comes up, but I’m excited to be here and excited to play in the Rose Bowl,” Abbrederis said.
Frederick said he was just doing his due diligence in exploring the NFL option.
“I think you have to at this point,” he said. “Just to see where you’re at, at least. ... I have put my name in but I’m not making any decisions or really starting to look into it until later on.”
Frederick seems the most likely one of the group to come back with a high draft grade. He’s a first-team All-Big Ten Conference player, he can also play guard and he’s physically developed as one of the strongest players on the team.
All four players said it would take something significant for them to leave.
“I think where this program is right now and where I like to be, I really value everything this program is about and I feel very comfortable in this program,” Frederick said.
“The NFL is a tremendous opportunity. Leaving early has to do with a lot of different factors, so we’ll kind of see where it heads.”
When Borland was asked what it would take for him to leave, he said, “It would take a lot. I haven’t really gotten into the specifics, but it would take a lot.”
The Badgers have 26 juniors, plus two fifth-year seniors who are expected to return next season, defensive end Brendan Kelly and quarterback Curt Phillips. Kelly already has been granted a sixth year and Phillips is expected to as well.
Twelve players from that group are expected starters for the Rose Bowl, and Bielema said before the season he expected next year’s team to be better than this one.
Borland admitted a coaching change at this point in their careers is not easy for the juniors.
“I think there are some challenges,” Borland said. “It’s also a great opportunity. (Andersen) is going to bring in a good staff, he’s already kept a couple guys. ... It’ll be a fresh start, but we’ve got a lot of good guys in our junior class. We’ll take it upon ourselves to lead.”
Those juniors will be counted on to provide leadership during the transition
“Absolutely, the young guys are going to look up to the leadership, which is going to come from the juniors who will be seniors,” Frederick said. “It’s up to that group to help move us through that transition.”
That transition will be much easier if all of the juniors return. Groy said he hasn’t talked to any other players yet who went through that decision. Two obvious choices are former offensive lineman Konz, who left after his junior season last year, and senior running back Montee Ball, who stayed. The deadline for juniors to declare for the draft is Jan. 13, so there will be time for that after the Rose Bowl.
“I haven’t talked to anybody yet because it’s not something I’m focused on right now,” Groy said.