The Wisconsin defensive backfield has been decimated by injuries so far this season, but that has not been a concern for backup safeties Eric Burrell and Evan Bondoc. The motto for this season in the Wisconsin football secondary has been about brotherhood, sophomore Burrell said.
“Next man up is the key,” Burrell said. “Look to my left and right and see [my teammates] out there, that’s okay. Whoever it is.”
With injuries to starting safeties freshman Scott Nelson and senior D’Cota Dixon, who have both been out since the Oct. 13 game against Michigan, the secondary has had no choice but to step up in their absence.
Two of the players that have managed to make the leap have been Burrell and Bondoc.
Burrell, in particular, has been very impressed with the way Bondoc has handled his increased responsibility in his senior season.
“Bondoc is one of the leaders in the room,” Burrell said. “He’s been here the longest. [Bondoc] has proved the doubters wrong. I’m proud of him. He’s waited his turn and he’s made the absolute most of it.”
Bondoc has now had interceptions in two straight games against Illinois and Northwestern, after receiving no playing time prior to the Michigan game. He has stepped up to every bit of the task that defensive coach Jim Leonhard has had for him.
Bondoc has felt that the secondary being such a tight-knit group has been key in their ability to pick up each other’s slack.
“Being on the same page is something that we do a good job of as a group,” Bondoc said. “All cohesive and working together to have everyone prepared and ready to play. We are learning from each other. Plays that we see before, we correct them. We try not to make the same mistakes.”
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One thing that Bondoc and Burrell could easily agree on was how important Dixon is to the team, both as an on-field player and a leader.
“D’Cota is the leader of our room and sets a high standard. We wanted to make him proud out there,” Bondoc said.
“I learned everything from D’Cota. He talks to me every day, everywhere. We learn from each other,” Burrell said.
Evidently, Dixon is an essential piece to this secondary, even when he’s not on the field. Younger and less experienced players have been learning from him and the results have proven that. Though Dixon will be graduated next season, it’s comforting to know that his wisdom will still be felt by the younger members of the secondary like Burrell.
It’s unclear when Nelson or Dixon will return, but fortunately, it feels like the secondary is in good hands in their absence. In the last two games, the secondary has held the Illinois passing offense to 90 yards and three interceptions and Northwestern to 167 yards and three more interceptions.
This is an encouraging development for a group that two weeks ago gave up 38 points to Michigan and forced no turnovers.It does feel like the unit is hitting their stride, which is good news considering the team has a very important stretch coming up.
They are now one game behind Northwestern in the Big Ten West standings having lost the tiebreaker matchup. They will need a strong finish to have any chance at winning the Big Ten West and playing in a third consecutive Big Ten Championship game. Time will tell if Burrell, Bondoc and the rest of the secondary are up to the task.