20 on '20: David Pfaff on Wisconsin's Defensive Line

Jake Kocorowski

As Wisconsin football student-athletes started "voluntary athletics activities" on June 15 -- AllBadgers.com wanted to begin a series dedicated to the program entering a 2020 season.

Ed. note: The Big Ten announced in July that the conference's fall sports would compete within its own league. Any updates to UW's football schedule are still unknown as of Aug. 3.

I had some questions as to the parameters, however. Do we highlight breakout or "most important" players according to a specific set of standards?

Perhaps we look at the biggest concerns with a team returning many starters and contributors but has specific questions needing to be answered at key positions?

In that light, AllBadgers.com presents its "20 on '20" series where we dissect (you guessed it) 20 topics pertaining to the football program. For those needing to catch up, here is the series so far:

Topic No. 12: Wisconsin's Defensive Line

Last week, AllBadgers.com spoke with David Moorman about an offensive line that will have to replace him, Tyler Biadasz and Jason Erdmann. What about on the other side of the line of scrimmage in a group that returns all of its projected starters and could be one of the strengths on the team?

We reached out to former defensive end David Pfaff, who announced via social media recently that he will continue his football career with the Green Bay Blizzard of the Indoor Football League.

Like Moorman, the one question asked about each of the following defensive linemen below was what Pfaff expects out of them next season. Here were his answers from last week, lightly edited for clarity.

Keeanu Benton: “So Keeanu, definitely a starter. He definitely has everything that he learned his freshman year and definitely built upon it this year in the offseason, I'm sure. He's going to be a big pillar for the defensive line, someone we can rely on to do great things. What did he have like two sacks last year in big, big games? I think those numbers are going to definitely increase this year, and he's gonna have a good year if he stays healthy.”

Bryson Williams: “Bryson has had a lot of adversity happen to him the last, I'd say, year, maybe a year-and-a-half. But that guy is resilient as anyone I've ever seen before. Talk about mental toughness, that's a guy who's going to come every day and work his ass off. Doesn't matter where he is on the depth chart, he's the type of guy that we can rely on to back up Keeanu and maybe give him a breather. Get some serious reps and hopefully get a lot of production this year to make stuff happen for him. He's another guy that I think that position is really going to benefit from those two guys tag teaming it (at nose tackle).”

Isaiahh Loudermilk: “For any senior this year, it's very strange. … It’s unprecedented, this whole COVID(-19 pandemic), and I know when I was a senior, I had a chip on my shoulder and kind of a goal to be the best senior I could be. Regardless of my production numbers, it was all about, 'How can I make the most of every day?' I think that's what Isaiahh is going to do this year. 

"He's got tons of passion for this game. I mean the guy's huge. It's hard stopping that man when he's healthy, and I know he's had in previous years some concerns about that. But I think he's going to step up. He's going to be a great contributor, and hopefully he can be on a couple more watch lists this year for some national awards. Hopefully he can get his production numbers up and win some big things so it's going to be huge.”

Garrett Rand: “Garrett’s always been a leader in the d-line room. [laughs] The guy, when he speaks you listen, because he's not the biggest talker in the group. So when he opens his mouth, it's good to definitely hear what he has to say because he's got a pretty serious outlook on how you play d-line.

“I know he prides himself on definitely being gritty and stealing the opportunities when he can and making the most of it. That just goes back to his family. The Rands, they're great people, and they're a big support for him.

“I think he's going to … give the position some great depth and potentially being a starter for the entire year and really killing it. The same thing with him -- this is his last go round, and in his career, he's seen a lot of adversity, too. So I know he's gonna come into this season with a big chip on his shoulder. This is kind of his last dance and … when you turn on the film and see Garrett Rand, 'You’re gonna be like holy s--- that kid wants to play football.'”

Matt Henningsen: “Matt is one of the most mature and smart players I've ever met. It's kind of funny because even when I was a senior, it was like, ‘Man, I feel like you've been here for so long,’ when that just wasn't the case. Complete student of the game. I know he's another one, who kind of last year, he was in the right position at the right time to get two touchdowns. I think with all his hard work this offseason, he's going to just put himself in more good positions. 

"I want to go back to the quote of, ‘The harder you work, the more luck you seem to have,’ and that's how Matt is. This guy’s a brainiac when it comes to football and always picking Coach Nokes’s (defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield) brain on stuff and almost like coaching himself so he can be the best player he can be.”

Isaiah Mullens: “Me and Isaiah roomed together on the road a lot last year, and that dude, man, freak athlete. He didn't get as many reps as I think he should have last year, but with this year, offseason, I definitely think he took advantage of it. Really ... I've been talking to him a little bit here and there, like I do just a lot of the other guys. I know that he's gonna definitely step up this year and give the d-line some depth. Hopefully get some good playing time behind Rand, Matt and Isaiahh. If everything goes according to plan, this will be a year that he can really step up and solidify his future on the Wisconsin defensive line.”

Boyd Dietzen: “Again, he's another athlete that really is underrated. He did a lot of stuff last year for special teams. That was probably just because of the weight and you get some of those issues being on the d-line. You got to be a bigger guy, but that guy in the right position, he will make the play. Definitely want to see more production out of him this year, but if he's in the right place and learning like he should be from the other guys, definitely he's going to be doing good things. A soft-spoken guy, but you kind of need that sometimes. You need a follower almost to just be the guy who's gonna do anything to get on that field, and that's Boyd.”

Gio Paez: “I had a season with Gio, and that guy, he prides himself on trying to have as much swag and being the biggest talker, and I love that about him. Because he understands that you have to carry yourself in a different way being on the offensive and defensive line. You have to just be different. Being in the trenches, it's gritty so I definitely hope he took this COVID(-19) period, this offseason training period seriously to get some reps. Being a younger guy, not having a spring ball, that's hard. Just not having that development period is going to be hard and it might show, but I know for a fact that he definitely wants to do some big things here and make a legacy for himself.”

Rodas Johnson: “Me and Rodas were locker buddies. Our lockers were right next to each other. Coming in, I had no idea about Rodas. I couldn't peg him, and the first couple weeks he came in, he was asking questions, and he was a really cool freshman. We built up a relationship over the season. Going into the Rose Bowl, the whole deal, and he's just a good person and a good football player."

“He was someone on the scout team last year that I know they relied heavily on him to give a good look. We had a conversation sometime in the season, and he said, ‘I just cannot wait for my number to be called because I am all gas, no brakes.’ Again, he's a guy like Gio where it's gonna be a problem that he didn't get any reps this spring because there wasn't (spring football). So you're going to see that, but if he keeps doing what he has been doing when I was around, the kid is going to definitely be a contributor.”

Michael Balistreri: “I grew up with Mike. I grew up in the same town as him, and I remember he had a coach back at his high school that also was kind of like a mentor to me. We had lunch or dinner one day before he even came to UW, and he ... was picking my brain on all this stuff. Then when he came in, it was cool to see him kind of getting that jumpstart on everything I told him.

“He's been a guy that we've been able to rely on for giving great looks for ‘Rudy’ (offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph). He's definitely another soft-spoken guy and really hasn't gotten much playing time, but we've been kind of stacked the last couple of years and development has definitely been hard. From my perspective, it's what you get out of it, what you put into it. I think with any player that’s going to be true, so we're gonna see what Mike can do being an older player now. He's only got this season and the next season left, and I think he'll definitely make the most of it. It's going to be critical for him to have a great fall camp, being a walk-on and trying to prove himself among great players that we have on the d-line right now. If he can get some solid reps this year, that's going to definitely propel him next year to a good spot when Rand and Isaiahh leave.”