Rosy reward: This time around, Borland won't be a spectator in Pasadena

2011-12-18T05:00:00Z 2012-01-05T19:49:44Z Rosy reward: This time around, Borland won't be a spectator in PasadenaTOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 | Twitter: @TomMulhernWSJ madison.com

After arriving in Los Angeles prior to the Rose Bowl last season, the University of Wisconsin football team made a quick detour on the way to its hotel.

UW coach Bret Bielema wanted his players to take a look at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, Calif., to reduce the awe factor when game time rolled around a week later.

While the players walked around on the field and took pictures, a solitary figure walked up to the top of the stadium, near the 50-yard line, took a seat and looked around.

Maybe that's evidence middle linebacker Chris Borland is a big picture kind of guy. Borland was injured, having been redshirted last season due to surgery for a broken bone in his left shoulder.

He also underwent surgery on his right shoulder, prior to the Rose Bowl, to repair a small tear in the labrum, so he had his right arm in a sling at the time.

"I just wanted to kind of take it all in, so I went up to the top," Borland said. "It's a beautiful place. It was good, I took it all in, looked at the field, looked at the mountain backdrop and everything, was hoping to get back."

But Borland knew there were no guarantees. UW had played in back-to-back Rose Bowl games only one other time in school history.

So, nobody has been happier about UW's return to the Rose Bowl, where it will face Oregon on Jan. 2, than Borland, a sophomore.

"These are rare. It's our fifth one in the last 18 years, which is good," Borland said of UW's Rose Bowl trips. "But a lot of guys go through their careers and never play in a Rose Bowl. To go back to back, we're fortunate. I'm very happy about it."

Borland isn't the only key figure in the Badgers' starting lineup who sat out the last Rose Bowl game due to injury. Senior right tackle Josh Oglesby missed the game after undergoing knee surgery for the sixth time in his career -- the second time for a torn ACL.

"We definitely understood each other's struggle," Borland said of Oglesby. "I don't know that Josh and I sat down on a couch and had a psychiatrist's moment, but we definitely helped each other. Just seeing each other working to get better in the rehab facility, it helps your morale."

Both Borland and Oglesby were first team All-Big Ten Conference selections and big reasons the Badgers are headed back to Pasadena.

"I think it just goes to show you, hard work and sticking with what you love, eventually it's going to pay off for you down the road," Oglesby said. "I finally had somewhat of a healthy year and I was able to come away with first-team all-conference, which I wasn't expecting but am very grateful for."

After being named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year in 2009 as an outside linebacker, Borland moved to the middle this season. It took him a few games to get acclimated and Bielema is still sensitive to critics who thought Borland was more effective outside.

"He really grew so much during the course of the year," Bielema said. "He never played inside linebacker. I know it was a common discussion in those first three, four, five games, 'Why isn't Borland outside?'

"You're really seeing the emergence of a middle linebacker that is exceptional and the great thing is, he's got two more years."

Borland ranks second in the Big Ten in overall tackles with 131, trailing only UW linebacker Mike Taylor (137). In addition, Borland leads the defense with 18 tackles for loss, more than twice as many as anybody else on the team, and four forced fumbles.

Yet the thing that means the most to Borland this season is never having to leave the field for even one snap, due to injury.

"Being able to play every snap, that the coaches wanted me in this year, before the backups came in ... has meant a lot to me," Borland said. "It's the thing I'm most proud of right now."

Borland thought all of this was possible a year ago. But at the time, he had no idea what a long road back it would be, following three shoulder surgeries in a year -- he also had surgery on his left shoulder after his freshman year -- and being kept away from the practice field for nearly a year.

"I learned throughout coming back, I was probably farther off than I thought I was," Borland said. "I thought I could jump back in, but it took a lot of work.

"Coach 'Huxt' (linebackers coach Dave Huxtable), I couldn't have done it without him. He's been a great coach and the teammates that have helped push me, (Marcus) Trotter and (Derek) Landisch being behind me, you can't relax for a second."

Borland constantly had people asking him last season if sitting out was harder because the team made it to the Rose Bowl. His pat answer was it would have been harder watching the team lose.

"I just wanted to be a part of that," he said of watching last season. "I think it's such a special experience. I had never seen anything like the Rose Bowl and everything that goes along with it.

"I was glad to be a part of a successful year. I would have hurt more to sit out in a year we lost. Can't say I didn't miss playing in that (Rose Bowl) game."

Borland took the 21-19 loss to TCU as hard as anyone who was on the field.

"A little porous defensively at times," he said. "We gave them some things. But TCU, you see what (quarterback) Andy Dalton is doing this year (in the NFL), they were a good offense. It was a good game, sometimes it doesn't just go your way."

This time, Borland will at least have a say in the outcome.

"It's never going to be easy to have to sit out," he said. "I love to play football, it's as simple as that, I didn't get to. That was tough.

"It's hard to see your team lose. We lost last year in a game I felt like we could have very well pulled it out. That was tough to watch. It's a new year this year."

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