September 2, 2009

Tolzien relaxed and confident as opener approaches

MADISON, Wis. - Let's recap the way the most important position on a football team has unfolded over the course of the past calendar year for Wisconsin.

Allan Evridge was named starting quarterback to start 2008. Dustin Sherer replaced Evridge midway through the season. Curt Phillips pushed Sherer through spring ball. Phillips surpassed Sherer in fall camp.

And your starter for the 2009 opener against Northern Illinois is Scott Tolzien.

Who?

For three years, Tolzien has been a relative nobody in the Badger program. Don't get that misunderstood because people who really followed the team knew he was on the roster. But as the third, sometimes fourth quarterback on the depth chart, it is understandable how he may not be recognized by most.

What a difference a few years can make. Now, as a junior, he has the reigns to the offense. One that is looking to guide Wisconsin back from a disappointing 7-6 campaign a year ago.

"I just knew that if I worked hard good things would come and my hard work would pay off," Tolzien said following a recent practice. "Obviously everyone wants to start their freshman year, redshirt freshman year or sophomore year. It's taken me to my junior year, but I still have the opportunity and I'm looking forward to it."

Tolzien has seen his stock rise through the Badger depth chart with consistent and steady play. He isn't going to burn people with his legs, but he's not immobile. He's not going to break fingers with his passes, but he will deliver them where they need to be.

When Curt Phillips overtook Sherer early in camp, it seemed he was going to be the starter come the Northern Illinois opener. But, for every good play Phillips made, he counteracted it with a terrible interception or shoddy decision-making.

Tolzien, on the other hand, has seen his confidence progress to a level that has him where he knew he could be.

"I feel more comfortable ever since fall camp started," Tolzien said. "I'm just getting more reps and throwing the ball more comfortably and stuff like that. I feel like I've got more confidence in my teammates and more confidence in myself as well."

Since Tolzien hasn't started a meaningful game in nearly four years when his Palatine (IL) Fremd high school was upset in the second round of the state playoffs. Since then, he has seen action in only three games and has tallied career numbers of 5-of-8 passing with an interception.

But still, UW head coach Bret Bielema likes the way Tolzien has approached each and every opportunity he has had since the Badger coaching staff was recruiting him out of high school.

"He's a guy that we identified and eventually, when we made the offer, I don't know where he stood in the pecking order," Bielema said. "But the greatest thing he's done is he's come here and he's taken full advantage of every opportunity."

On Saturday, his next opportunity will come when he runs through the tunnel in front of a sold out Camp Randall Stadium. For anyone else starting their first collegiate game on such a big stage, nerves would be at the highest level.

But, for Tolzien, a man that elevated himself through the ranks last spring and throughout August's fall camp, has done so by remaining calm and consistent. And he doesn't plan on changing that.

"I feel like I've got to try to be that way," Tolzien said. "That's who I am and I can't all of a sudden on Saturday flip the switch and be somebody I haven't been."


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