Defensive end Chikwe Obasih knew his place in the University of Wisconsin football hierarchy during his redshirt season last year.
What he didn’t fully comprehend was the torture it would cause him.
It wasn’t just working day after day without the reward of playing in games. It was so much more than that for the Brookfield Central product, whose names are pronounced CHEEK-way oh-BAH-shee.
Asked to describe what his redshirt year was like, Obasih had this to say:
“It’s like getting abused every single day. I had to wear full pads every single day. They would cut (block) you, they wouldn’t even tell you.
“Sometimes you’d get the wrong end of the stick. One guy would be peeved off one day and you can’t even fight back. The offensive coaches will get on your butt for that.”
Obasih was near the bottom of the food chain and couldn’t do much but suck it up and get better, which is precisely what he did.
Now, less than four months removed from the end of that long season, Obasih finds himself as a starter and one of the surprises of spring heading into today’s modified Cardinal-and-White scrimmage.
“He was the toughest guy last year on the scout team, day in and day out, as far as just coming out and getting knocked around,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “As light as he was, he kept on fighting and battling.
“So, he has a toughness we learned he had a year ago. That’s just continued to grow.”
Obasih isn’t complaining, but it wasn’t easy. Start with the redshirts’ schedule.
The redshirts came in during the morning to lift weights, then practiced in the afternoon.
“Midway through the season, you just want everything to be done,” Obasih said. “You want to lie in your bed for hours and hours, you can never get enough sleep. Mid-morning naps are the most important part of your day, in between the morning lift and your classes.”
But there is a purpose to the daily grind and the suffering that goes with it.
“It got you mentally prepared for what college football is going to be like,” Obasih said.
During the course of the 14 spring practices leading up to today, Obasih quickly bypassed more experienced players.
“Chikwe has really made great strides,” Andersen said. “He’s got himself into a spot right now if we were going to play tomorrow and have a game, he’d be the starter.”
What’s even more impressive is Obasih was a 4-3 end in high school who had to make the significant adjustment to a 3-4 end with the Badgers.
“I can adjust to everything,” he said. “It’s a big change, coming from a 4-3 in high school to a 3-4, but I made the jump.”
Obasih was about 235 pounds when he arrived at UW last summer. On the scout team, he was in the low 250s. He’s now up to 260 and hopes to be between 265 and 270 for the upcoming season.
“High school kids a lot of times in the defensive line, when they’re so dominant and they’re so strong, they have a tendency to really play high, because they can get away with it,” Andersen said.
“But he has developed pad level, he’s developed the ability to play with his hands. He controls his feet very well. Now, his mind is cleared. The waters have calmed, so his ability to go out and react to what’s coming his way after spring break really developed and gave him an opportunity to get into position to make plays.”
Due to injuries, the Badgers will cut back on their normal spring game. The first half will be a controlled practice and feature the top two tailbacks, junior Melvin Gordon and sophomore Corey Clement. They will be hit — Andersen calls it “heavy thudding” — but not be brought to the ground.
The second half will feature two full quarters of a regular scrimmage, without the goofy scoring system from last year, when things like long runs and tackles for loss were all rewarded with points.
“We need to compete, we need to play football,” Andersen said. “So I want to see a productive offense, a productive defense. Like I always say, during practice or in games, you’ve got to earn your way. That needs to happen. It can’t be a big play because of a mistake. … We have to be able to execute and look like a big-time Division I football team.”
While Obasih didn’t enjoy everything he went through last year, he knows it will make him a better player in the long run.
“It made me enduring,” Obasih said. “Going through all that, any redshirt can tell you that. It’s a hassle. It puts you through the worst parts and prepares you to go through anything when you’re an upperclassman.
“All of the upperclassmen said their redshirt year was when they started to appreciate football.”