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Playing on the big stage

December 20, 2012
Daniel Kerwin - Journal Sports Writer (dkerwin@nujournal.com) , The Journal

MADISON, Wis. - For some, tuning in to watch the Rose Bowl and its accompanying parade on TV is an annual New Year's Day tradition.

Springfield native Tyler Marz has been establishing a Rose Bowl tradition of his own over the past two years - only his doesn't involve a TV.

An offensive lineman for the University of Wisconsin football team, Marz will be making his second trip to California with the Badgers this year, where he will experience the Rose Bowl from right on the field.

Article Photos

Photo by David Stluka, UW Athletic Communications
University of Wisconsin offensive lineman Tyler Marz competes during a game earlier this season. Marz is a 2011 graduate of Springfield High School and is a freshman for the Badgers this season after having redshirted last season.
 

"I came from a small town, I didn't really pay too much attention to college ball," Marz said. "On TV it looks pretty sweet, but in person it's 10 times better - the fans and the atmosphere, it's amazing."

Last season in his first year with the program, Marz was a redshirt, meaning he wasn't eligible to take the field for the Badgers during the season, including during the team's 45-38 loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl. This year as a redshirt freshman (academic sophomore, first year of game eligibility), Marz has seen his role increase steadily throughout the season, meaning that he'll likely be right in the thick of things when Wisconsin takes the field against Stanford on Jan. 1.

Springfield head football coach Paul Dunn, who coached Marz in high school, had a successful college football career of his own. However, even he is left in awe when thinking about what Marz will experience playing in one of the most high-profile college football games of the year.

"It's got to be just an awesome feeling, I can't imagine," Dunn said. "I played in the Division III national championship game, and how excited I was, I can't imagine putting that kind of an atmosphere in front of 100,000 people, it's just got to be electric."

This year marks the third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance for Wisconsin, with the team losing 21-19 against Texas Christian University in 2011 in addition to last year's loss against the Ducks. The Badgers weren't an overwhelming favorite to win their third straight Big Ten championship this year, but the players knew that it was by no means an unrealistic goal.

"Coming into the season we knew that those other two teams in Penn State and Ohio State couldn't go, just because of what happened in the past," Marz said. "So we knew we had a good shot at it, but we took it day by day and game by game, worked hard and did what we had to do, and here we are."

The Badgers finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, but three of the losses were in overtime, with the other two decided by three points each. The team finished with a 4-4 record in the Big Ten to finish behind both Ohio State (8-0) and Penn State (6-2) in the Leaders Division standings, but with both Ohio State and Penn State serving Bowl suspensions, Wisconsin was given the nod to take on Legends Division champion Nebraska (7-1) in Indianapolis on Dec. 1 in the Big Ten championship game.

Wisconsin squashed any doubt that it deserved a berth in the Rose Bowl with a 70-31 dismantling of the Cornhuskers in the game. It wasn't until the Badgers had taken firm control of the game, however, that Marz finally processed the fact that he was headed to the Rose Bowl again.

"Going into Nebraska, I felt good about it, and I think our team felt good," Marz said. "After our first quarter or second quarter, we were rolling pretty good, so it kind of sank in right then."

Marz played a big role for the Badgers against Nebraska, giving him some personal momentum heading into the biggest game of his young career.

"He's really close to playing a lot," said Dunn, who remains in constant contact with Marz. "... He played significant minutes against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game. They ran behind him twice for touchdowns on the goal line in their wildcat formation, so he was really happy."

However, since the win against Nebraska, Marz and the rest of the Badgers haven't had time to bask in the glow of winning the Big Ten title. The only thing on their minds has been preparing to take care of business against Stanford.

"Stanford, they're a good team," Marz said. "It's going to be a physical match-up. We started watching film right after the Nebraska game and looked into what they do and stuff like that. This is a big month in preparation and just watching film. I think it's going to be a good game - we're pretty similar teams and it's going to be a smash-mouth game."

The team's practice schedule in December has been a break from routine, with the extra three weeks of preparation time between games allowing for more time off for the players. However, the month included a major distraction when news broke on Dec. 4 that head coach Bret Bielema had accepted the head coaching position at the University of Arkansas and wouldn't be with the Badgers for the Rose Bowl.

Former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez - who led the Badgers to Rose Bowl victories in 1994, 1999 and 2000 - ended up stepping in fill Bielema's absence, a move that has gone positively for the team so far.

"The two weeks we've had under him have been great," Marz said of Alvarez. "He's a great coach, he's a Hall of Fame guy, very respected. I think as a team we were kind of shocked that Coach B left, but there's nothing you can do about it, you've got to move forward. We've got one goal, and that's to go win the Rose Bowl, so Coach Alvarez is going to help us do that."

Bielema's departure was just the latest in what has been an entire season of coaching upheaval for the Badgers, especially for Marz and the rest of the team's offensive line.

Prior to the season, offensive line coach Bob Bostad left Wisconsin to take a position at the University of Pittsburgh, but a short time later he ended up landing a job in the National Football League, taking over as offensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bostad - who had made what Dunn describes as "almost weekly" trips to Springfield when scouting Marz - was replaced by Mike Markuson, who lasted only two games before being replaced by Bart Miller.

The most recent coaching news for the team is that Utah State head coach Gary Andersen will take over the program next year.

Despite the coaching changes, Marz feels that the team's offensive line has maintained a tradition that hasn't wavered.

"I think Coach Bostad, he instilled a lot of the things - our technique, our work ethic - he instilled that into us, and I think that's just kind of carried over," Marz said. "We've got some good leaders here with the upperclassmen, they kind of just keep us all bonded together and keep moving forward. I think it's just going to continue that way, the underclassmen will just take that role as they move up and they lead the younger guys. We're going to be a strong tradition here at Wisconsin."

When Marz flies out to California on Christmas day, the team will have put the distractions in the past and will resume its regular practice routine.

"Once we get down to California, that's when our normal week will start back up and we'll have our normal routine there," Marz said. "But next week here we'll be practicing on and off and just watching film - it's just extra time you get that you normally don't have, so it's actually pretty valuable and pretty nice to have."

Marz will have time for some non-football activities during the trip, too. Last year he said that he got to go to Disneyland, and also a comedy club that he says he will likely return to this year.

The offensive linemen are also looking forward to enjoying another California staple - In-N-Out Burger.

"Us offensive lineman are all about eating out there, so any good food restaurants or stuff like that, we're all about that," Marz said.

Although going to the Rose Bowl means that Marz will be away from home for the holidays, he is fortunate that his family will be making the trip along with him for the second straight year.

"I've got two brothers and my parents, they're usually at every home game here in Madison," Marz said. "I've had a couple of family friends or people from Springfield coming down to watch, so it's been great to see the support. Through social media and everything, I get text messages and facebook stuff and tweets and stuff like that, so it's good to know that people have got my back and are supportive."

While Marz's immediate focus is on the here and now and doing his best to help his team in this year's Rose Bowl, it is likely that he is still in just the beginning stage of what may turn out to be a very successful career with the Badgers.

"I think he's right on schedule," Dunn said. "They're going to be losing some guys up front again, it seems to me the way they're using him now that they have plans for him to move in and be potentially a three-year starter. In the Big Ten, that's really significant if you can have that longevity. And he'll be left tackle - left tackles in the Big 10 are pretty valuable."

 
 

 

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