Off the field, he’s a gentleman.
He’s said to treat everyone as his brother, is well-mannered and apparently has a thing for chewing gum.
Talking to him, you notice a slight southern accent in his soft voice to match his manners. Then you have to remind yourself whom you are speaking to. Yes, this is the same Chris Borland who is a man possessed on game day.
“I wouldn’t be a very nice person if I behaved off the field like I do on the field,” Borland said. “Football is a game that requires a lot of rage and intensity and I love to play it that way.”
“That’s what Chris is good at, he’s good at being the bully,” senior linebacker Mike Taylor said. “He’s the one that makes the contact and makes everyone scared.”
As linebackers coach Andy Buh put it, you wouldn’t want him chasing after you.
Buh, one of the six new assistant coaches this season, said he was thrilled when he realized the linebacking corps he was inheriting.
“I was eager to meet the guys,” Buh said. “I knew that they were pretty special and they have not disappointed.”
Buh took control of one of the best linebacker duos in the country in Borland and Taylor, and the two have continued their antics this season. The junior only has 60 tackles compared to the senior’s 72, but Borland has four sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss. Borland has also registered five pass break ups and five more pass deflections this year with two forced fumbles.
Through his career, the Kettering, Ohio, native has 264 tackles through 36 games. He also has 12.5 sacks to his name and 39 TFLs and has been known to take an occasional punt or field goal attempt in the annual spring game.
In 2009, his freshman campaign, Borland earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year accolades. In 2011 he was a consensus first-team all-Big Ten decision. And he’s also only a redshirt junior after suffering a shoulder injury, which sidelined him in 2010.
His overwhelmingly impressive resume is thrown into sharper relief when he revealed he rarely played defense in high school. In fact, he once admitted he knew practically nothing about what an A-gap (the space between the center and guard) was before getting here.
“[He was] just a small short kid, didn’t really know a lot about football, still doesn’t know a lot,” Taylor said with a hearty laugh. “He’s a big motor, always running to the ball, no matter the play. He’s a big guy, a quick guy who has a knack for the ball. He just makes plays.
“He learned a lot from his elder — me.”
Prior to UW, Borland primarily played running back, but he was recruited to UW as a linebacker. The minute he stepped on campus, the transition began.
“[Former defensive coordinator Dave] Doeren was great,” Borland said. “He taught me everything I know about football. I’ve had great coaches since.”
Buh wasn’t aware of Borland’s transition from offense to defense. The only way he can describe the jump is that it’s simply impressive.
Only a year after his debut, injury struck. Borland took a medical redshirt his sophomore year after suffering a shoulder injury just two games into the year.
The road to recovery was made more difficult with a deluge of doubts surrounding his capabilities — little more than echoes of his initial transition to linebacker.
“A lot of people doubted me,” Borland said. “I was behind a little bit. I had a lot to prove, people didn’t think I could play at this level and coming back from injury, people didn’t think I could recover. I kind of had the same mindset those two consecutive years, and third year after sitting out.”
Adding to those doubts is Borland’s height. He’s a rare 5-foot-11, 242-pound middle linebacker. But it’s difficult to completely silence those critics when he knows he’ll never be any taller than he is now.
“I’ll always be 5-11,” Borland said. “I’m fine with it. I think there’s a lot of great players who play this position at my height or shorter so I’m not too concerned about being able to have success. I’ve never even really given it much thought.”
“My first day I met Chris Borland, I said, ‘You’re Chris Borland?’ I thought he’d look different. I thought he’d be like 6-foot-6, 260-pounds and run a 4.4-second [40-yard dash],” Buh joked. “Obviously I knew how big he was but my first impression was he’s a normal guy, just a cool cat.”
In face of the doubters and the critics, Borland just wants to play his game, his way — which is a mean one according to his fellow linebackers and coach.
But for a guy who is consistently in the public eye for his play every Saturday, Borland remains a humble kid, unaware of the effect his play has on fans.
“I don’t get noticed on campus really,” Borland said. “I don’t really look like a football player out in street clothes so it’s nice to have that to kind of get away from it. The attention’s fine, but I don’t really care about it. I don’t notice some of that stuff.”
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