Senior captain O\’Brien Schofield leaves the field after helping to defeat Michigan Nov. 14 at Camp Randall Stadium.[/media-credit]

The name O’Brien Schofield didn’t always use to make Big Ten quarterbacks shudder in the backfield.

The Great Lakes, Ill., native was once buried in the UW depth chart as a linebacker who just couldn’t seem to break through the ranks. Perhaps making things more difficult for Schofield was the coaching staff’s decision to move him to the defensive line, where they believed he could utilize his speed better and make a difference on defense.

But when some believed that position switch might mean the end of the road for Schofield, his colleague and teammate Jaevery McFadden recalls quite the opposite reaction from his longtime friend.

“O.B. had it the right way,” McFadden said. “One time, after he made the switch during the summer, I called him up and he said he was going to the weight room. I was like, ‘In the summer, man?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do some extra workouts and some new stuff for the defensive end.’ It just showed me how hardworking and how much of a competitor he is.”

The payoff has been fairly evident. Schofield has contributed eight sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss totaling 101 yards and an All-Conference selection in only his second season as a fulltime starter.

However, O.B. — the name he has seemingly adopted on the UW football team — has assumed a role as a vocal leader in addition to his stellar play. Although some might believe he was always the voice of reason on the defensive line and in the locker room, he claims quite the opposite.

“I didn’t really think I was going to be a vocal leader — I thought I would just lead by my actions,” Schofield said. “It kind of just fell upon me because when you see things as a captain or as a leader, you’ve got to call those things out right away. It really just grew from that.”

But following the Badgers’ embarrassing 42-13 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl last December, McFadden remembers the locker room post game, when he says Schofield emerged as a vocal presence.

“O.B. said something, something like, ‘This ain’t us,'” McFadden said. “He just told the whole defense and the whole team, and since then, I’ve seen that he could be a vocal leader.”

Schofield got his first chance to exhibit his talent in the Outback Bowl when the Badgers faced Tennessee two years ago. In that game, he made his first career start, forcing a fumble and making three tackles. He believes that was the biggest step he took before becoming an every-day starter.

“Just to be out there, it was kind of an exciting thing,” Schofield said. “I really felt like I could play and like I could be a starter in college football, even though I was an undersized defensive end. I knew I had to take it upon myself this year to help this team.”

From then on, Schofield’s contribution to the team has been more than just his outspoken nature. During his junior season, he had a strong year, posting 30 tackles and five sacks while starting all 13 games.

But following a season that saw the departure of former defensive leaders Jonathan Casillas, DeAndre Levy, Matt Shaughnessy and Mike Newkirk, Schofield has propelled the defense — something that many thought would struggle this season — into a force that did not allow a 100-yard rusher all Big Ten season.

“O.B., he continues to be a guy who plays well,” fellow senior captain Chris Maragos said. “He leads by example, but he also leads vocally as well. You know guys feed off of his energy. He’s a guy that plays hard every week, and I think that when you see a guy going out hard with that energy, you want to up your energy to that level, too.”

“He made sure he made his senior season come out right, and it obviously turned out pretty well for him,” sophomore defensive lineman J.J. Watt added.

Postseason and beyond

Looking ahead, Schofield is all but a shoe-in to the NFL. In addition to his All-Conference selection, he has quite the bloodline that has already defined a legacy in the professional ranks. His cousins Bobby Engram and Vonnie Holiday played for the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, respectively, and his uncle Andre Carter played for Clemson.

However, with one game still remaining on the schedule, the possibility (or really, the probability) of playing in the NFL hasn’t really hit Schofield yet. According to his teammates and coaches, that alone proves how devoted he is to the well-being of the team.

“Well, he’ll probably get a shot, but a lot of guys get shots, and it’s what you do with that opportunity,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “I know it’s a dream of his, but I think he’ll be focused on beating Hawaii first.”

“It would be really nice,” Schofield added with a chuckle. “But I got to finish strong to be able to keep thinking about that.”

Even after receiving All-Conference honors, Schofield hasn’t changed his attitude about finishing out the season on a strong note. He understands how much of an honor it is to receive the accolades and feels no disdain toward the league that, despite having deserving statistics, overlooked him for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

“I mean, it would have been nice to have [Defensive Player of the Year], but being First Team is just as prestigious because I wasn’t on the map in preseason rankings coming into the season or anything like that,” Schofield said. “That just means that the media really thought that much of me as a player.”

“Not many guys are going to complain about First-Team All-Conference, but anyone could make an argument for him,” Watt added. “Teams really had to account for him in their game plan. That alone is a testament to how good he really is.”

‘The most fun I’ve ever had’

Going into this season, the Badgers weren’t expected to be a top force in the Big Ten. While they haven’t necessarily been a team worthy of BCS implications, Schofield believes he and his teammates did everything they could to make this their best year possible.

“This group of guys came out really strong, and we never looked back,” Schofield said. “Whether it was a win or a loss, we kept our focus on the next weekend and really prepared and just had fun.”

During a season that had so much focus on the stellar defensive end, Schofield feels the team’s overall performance made him a better player and a better person. Finishing the season with wins over Hawaii and the bowl game opponent would be the perfect way to end what he calls his “best season at UW.”

“I mean this has just been a really fun season,” he said. “I say that because it really has been. I’ve enjoyed my time here, especially my senior year, just being able to make these plays. Just being around these guys, I’m going to miss it. I’m going to really miss it.”