Who’s the best linebacker in the Big Ten? Is it Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier? Michigan State’s Max Bullough or Denicos Allen? How about one of Iowa’s guys: James Morris, Anthony Hitchens or Christian Kirksey? Maybe Illinois’ Jonathan Brown, Penn State’s Glenn Carson or Northwestern’s Chi Chi Ariguzo?
Nah, it’s Wisconsin’s Chris Borland.
The 5-11, 246-pound Kettering, Ohio, native is a whirling dervish who plays like his hair is on fire. No doubt, being told he was “too short,” “too slow” or “too this or that” over the years has fueled Borland’s fire and chiseled his will to succeed.
The senior is the centerpiece of a Wisconsin defense that ranks No. 2 overall in the Big Ten (267.3 ypg). And that’s a big reason why the Badgers haven’t skipped a beat under first-year coach Gary Andersen, whose staff scrapped the program’s 4-3 scheme and installed a 3-4.
The scheme change has suited Borland, who is No. 3 in the Big Ten tackles at the midway point of the season (56 stops, 9.3 pg). Borland his defensive mates may have been at their best all season in last week’s 35-6 demolition of Northwestern in which Wisconsin didn’t yield a touchdown and allowed just 241 yards vs. what was a prolific Wildcat offense.
I caught up with Borland as he and the Badgers (4-2 overall; 2-1 Big Ten) prepped to play at Illinois this Saturday vs. an Illini team which has an attack that ranks No. 5 in the league (457.2 ypg) and is dangerous.
Q: Are you the best linebacker in the Big Ten?
A: I think I have the ability to play the best. We are six games into a 12-plus game season, we have to continue to perform. But, absolutely, I think I can be the best.
Q: What have you liked and not liked about your season so far?
A: I have been pleased with my tackling; I think I have improved as a tackler. And I am playing well in space, which is an area I wanted to improve in during the offseason. I can still get after the passer more and hopefully create more takeaways.
Q: When you heard new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was going to scrape your 4-3 and install a 3-4, what were your first thoughts?
A: Initially, I was intrigued. I didn’t know much about it. Not that many college programs run it. I know Stanford has success with theirs and Alabama has done it in the past. The inside linebackers in a 3-4 have a lot of freedom to make a lot of plays. I got excited.
Q: Aranda seems like such a calm, cool level-headed guy. Does he ever get mad or yell?
A: Ya, he’s fiery. But not very often. He just prefers to get his message across without having to do that. The guys have a tremendous amount of respect for him. At times at practice and definitely on game day, he’s really competitive and fiery. You know it’s genuine with him because he’s such a reserved guy that when he does get excited, everybody responds.
Q: What’s your reaction when you read or hear that you are too short?
A: I think I have done enough to disprove critics of that. I wouldn’t trade an inch or two for any talent. I’m happy with where I am and think I’ve done enough to disprove those people who think I’m too short.
Q: You have played a lot of football. Is there any one running back or quarterback you have played against that you think is the toughest to bring down?
A: We faced some pretty good running backs in practice. John Clay to Montee Ball, those type of guys. As far as opponents, (Michigan State’s) Le’Veon Bell was good. I had respect for him. (Ohio State’s Terrelle) Pryor obviously was a tremendous athlete. Our conference is loaded this year. We saw some good guys last week (vs. Northwestern). (Nebraska’s) Taylor Martinez is another guy who stands out, he has a lot of speed.
Q: Who is the most underrated player on your defense?
A: I think Ethan Armstrong doesn’t get enough credit. He has been at it for a while now. He’s probably one of the most reliable guys I ever have played with. He’s really intelligent and works really hard. He’s always in the right spot. He’s always making the right calls, you can trust him. I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he means to our defense.
Q: If you had to go into a back-alley fight and could take one teammate with you to help, who would you choose?
A: I am gonna go with Ethan Armstrong again. He’s my roommate and I know him the best. He has a screw loose. He plays like a maniac sometimes, kinda goes crazy on the field. I don’t know if we’d win our fight, but we’d do some damage.
Q: People always talk about what a great athlete you are. Could you kick, punt, run or pass the ball in a game for Wisconsin?
A: I think so. We have a lot of guys who are versatile. I’ve kicked and thrown in a game, but I haven’t punted yet. I am confident I could those things if need be.
Q: How did you get out of the state of Ohio and land in Wisconsin?
A: Early on in the recruiting process, my parents and I sat down and talked when we realized that I could play at this level. We wanted to shoot for the highest place I could go. And my No. 1 choice was Wisconsin. My dad is from Madison and my grandpa went here. So it was a school we grew up rooting for. I always respected the program, watching Coach (Barry) Alvarez and those teams. It was my No.1 choice. And I got an opportunity to come here. Going into my senior year, I came to camp and they offered me a scholarship. So, it worked out perfectly.
Q: Did you get offers from any other Big Ten schools coming out of high school?
A: No, Wisconsin was my only offer.
Q: Did Ohio State show interest in you?
A: I wasn’t interested and I’m not sure if they came to my school or not. I don’t really recall.
Q: If someone if coming to campus, where you tell them to visit?
A: State Street Brats is popular. Hit up the Terrace by the lake if it’s warm. Those two spots are probably best.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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