Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland learned to do back-flips on a trampoline while growing up in Kettering, but he never knew those midair maneuvers would one day help him become a more effective leader.
The Alter High School graduate has mastered his technique to the point where he can do them now off any surface, and he’s most apt to display his hidden talent when his fellow players are physically spent.
His message: If he’s got more left in the tank, his teammates have no excuse for being tuckered out.
“It’s kind of a fun thing to do,” he said at the Big Ten media event last week in Chicago. “After a hard lift or practice, when everyone is kind of putting their hands on their knees, it’s kind of a perfect time to bring it out. And, hopefully, guys will realize they’re really not that tired and the workout or practice really wasn’t that tough.”
The 5-foot-11, 248-pound senior parlayed that rare agility into first-team All-Big Ten honors last season, leading the Badgers to their third straight Rose Bowl appearance.
Borland is one of more than two dozen area players who will be suiting up for Big Ten teams this fall, some of whom are expected to have prominent roles.
“Chris is the heart and soul of our defense,” new Wisconsin coach Gary Anderson said. “A lot of people talk about leadership on and off the field, but his consistency with his leadership is the key. He’s not overly flashy. He’s not a rah-rah guy. He’s just so consistent with how he carries himself academically, the way he carries himself daily and the expectation he has for himself, it’s easy to follow him.
“I believe he’s the best linebacker in the country. … Tremendous kid, tremendous leader.”
Borland averaged 8.7 tackles per game last season, seventh in the conference, and notched 10 tackles for loss. He’s become such a force that OSU coach Urban Meyer wondered how the previous staff let him get away. “He should be a Buckeye,” Meyer said.
Actually, though, OSU probably had little chance of landing him.
“My dad is from Madison. We rooted for the Badgers. As a Catholic kid, we rooted for Notre Dame, too,” Borland said. “Those were kind of my two teams. I never was an Ohio State fan. That’s tough when you’re in Dayton and everybody is crazy for the Buckeyes.
“They came in late, but I was committed to Wisconsin. That’s where I wanted to go all along.”
Borland believes the competition he faced in high school prepared him for the next level. The Knights won the Division IV state title during his senior year, and they had to navigate a fierce regular-season schedule, too.
“Ohio might not have the best football in the country, but I think it has the best brand of football,” he said. “Texas, Florida and California put out great athletes, but the football player that comes from Ohio — especially from the northeast and southwest, those hotbeds — knows it’s a workman’s-type game, especially in the Big Ten.”
- Indiana is hoping for big production from receiver Cody Latimer this season. The Jefferson product had 51 catches for 805 yards and six TDs last season, and he was second in the Big Ten with 67.1 receiving yards per game. But coach Kevin Wilson expects more.
“He’s been a little bit inconsistent with his practice habits,” Wilson said. “But he’s a strong guy. He can make some plays. I don’t know if he’s an upper-level player, truly. He’s close. It would be nice to see if he can be. He wants to be one. Will he work to be one, prepare to be one and go perform to be one and do it week after week? If you’re good, back it up the next week. The really good players repeat it.”
- Ifeadi Odenigbo, a defensive end from Centerville, was considered the top 2012 recruit in Ohio by ESPN.com when he signed with Northwestern, but he red-shirted as a freshman after suffering shoulder and ankle injuries.
“I think he’s got a really bright future,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Last year was a learning and growing experience for him. It added to his strengths. He hasn’t played football in a while, but watching the way he grew, I’m really excited for him to get his first taste of really being part of the experience.”
- Nick VanHoose, a cornerback from Graham, started 10 games for the Wildcats as a redshirt freshman last season, missing three with a shoulder injury. He had three interceptions and finished tied for eighth in the Big Ten with an average of one pass deflection per game.
Fitzgerald said of the area duo: “Both are going to be really big impact players for us this year.”
- Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen, a senior from Hamilton, was named preseason second-team All-Big Ten by several college football publications. He’s made 26 consecutive starts and finished third on the Spartans last year in tackles (79), tackles for loss (10) and sacks (3).
- Mike Replogle, a defensive end from Centerville, appeared in 10 games as a sophomore at Indiana last season. He had two siblings who played for the Hoosiers, brothers Tyler (2007-10) and Adam (2009-12).
- Illinois senior Jake Feldmeyer, another former Elk, started four games last season and is listed as a second-string center going into preseason camp.
- Former Alter standout Cody Byers, who played linebacker for Wisconsin, has given up football after suffering multiple concussions. He’s still enrolled in school.
Area players at Big Ten schools
Player Pos. Class High School
Jake Feldmeyer OL Sr. Centerville
Jarrod Clements DL Fr. Trotwood-Madison
Dawson Fletcher DB So. Lakota West
Cody Latimer WR Jr. Jefferson
Mike Replogle DL Jr. Centerville
Brant Gressel DL Fr. Centerville
Sean Welsh OL Fr. Springboro
Mike McCray LB Fr. Trotwood-Madison
Reon Dawson DB Fr. Trotwood-Madison
R.J. Williamson DB Fr. Dunbar
Denicos Allen LB Sr. Hamilton
Greg Hart TE Fr. Alter
Ifeadi Odenigbo DL Fr. Centerville
Nick VanHoose DB So. Graham
C.J. Barnett DB Sr. Northmont
Michael Bennett DL Jr. Centerville
Cam Burrows DB Fr. Trotwood-Madison
Taylor Decker OL So. Vandalia Butler
Rashad Frazier DL So. Middletown
Evan Lisle OL Fr. Centerville
Jalin Marshall WR Fr. Middletown
Braxton Miller QB Jr. Wayne
Luke Morgan QB Fr. Lebanon
Collin Link LB Jr. West Liberty-Salem
A.J. Jordan WR So. Trotwood-Madison
Connor Cummins WR Jr. Alter
Chris Borland LB Sr. Alter
Josh Harrison DL Jr. Wayne