Senior offensive lineman Robert Burge has been the backup to the stars.
"I've been working for four years, as hard as I can, and the furthest I've gotten is to back up Kevin Zeitler," said Burge, a fifth-year senior walk-on for the University of Wisconsin football team.
Burge, 6-foot-7, 320 pounds, from Holmen, has swung between guard and tackle, so he has backed up several of the top linemen who have gone through UW recently, including Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt.
In the process, he has tried to take something from each of them.
"Each of them had their different nuances," Burge said. "I hope I got everything I could get from the best part of them."
Now Burge (pronounced "Burj") is getting a chance to put it to use in a battle with sophomore Kyle Costigan, a converted defensive lineman, to be the starting right guard. Burge ended the spring as No. 1 and resumed that spot in preseason camp, although the real battle starts today when full pads come out for the first time.
Some fans might regard Burge as a placeholder, until somebody else comes along to beat him out. But the coaches have shown faith in him.
"He could be one of those seniors that has that special senior year that you're looking for," UW coach Bret Bielema said.
Until now, Burge is known not for backing up good players, but for his role in the two blocked punts in the two regular-season losses last year at Michigan State and Ohio State.
Burge was on the right wing, one of three protectors in the shield in front of punter Brad Nortman. Michigan State's Kyler Elsworth got outside of Burge and blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown late in the first half of the Spartans' 37-31 victory.
"I just didn't get out there far enough and the guy made a good play," said Burge, who regarded it as a physical mistake. "He's a fast, strong guy. He made a good play on the block and got by me."
It happened again the following week in a 33-29 loss to Ohio State, when Ryan Shazier got past Burge and blocked a punt in the third quarter, with the Buckeyes recovering at the UW 1-yard line and going on to score a touchdown.
"I had a mental bust on the protection," Burge said. "They took me off (punt team) shortly after. That was pretty tough on me. For the rest of the season, it weighed on me a little bit. I had to shake it somehow. I got rid of it."
The idea of leaving crossed his mind, but only briefly.
"After I got rid of it, I was all in again and doing whatever I could to help the team," he said.
Burge knows almost nobody knew his name prior to the blocked punts.
"I didn't get to play a whole bunch before being on the punt team," he said. "Nobody knows a lot of Olinemen anyway. Definitely, it's tough being that person (known for messing up) for anybody."
Even by UW standards, Burge would give the Badgers a massive right side of the line, when paired with sophomore right tackle Rob Havenstein (68, 343).
Burge does not think mobility is a problem for him. His big issue in camp is playing with a low pad level, given his height.
"I've got a lot of intensity on the field, a lot of passion," he said. "I may not show it all of the time, but inside, I know it's really there.
"No matter what, I'm going to try my best to do whatever I can to make the blocks here, do whatever I can to have the running backs score or protect the quarterback."
Burge is a former Eagle Scout, eager to please and wanting his teammates to know they can count on him.
"Whatever I can do, to be a good person, I try to do that," he said. "Boy Scouts taught me that — respect everybody."
Being the starting right guard would give him a chance to create some new memories in fans' minds, although he doesn't view it that way. Special teams and the offensive line are separate worlds, but Burge hopes his hard-earned lessons from last season will carry over.
"That will always be a part of what I did," he said of the punt blocks. "I've got to learn from that. It's two different facets of the game. I've got to take what I learned from that and apply it to the right guard spot, do whatever I can to play my best there."