UW’s Landisch thrives in first season as starter
After breaking his ankle during his junior year of high school, senior linebacker Derek Landisch thought his dream of playing football at Wisconsin was over.Fast forward five years. Landisch is now one of the key cogs on the Wisconsin defense and is having his best season on the team.Growing up Nashotah, Wisconsin, just over an hour away from Madison, Landisch was one of those kids with Badger dreams. His sights were set on playing football for Wisconsin. Then he broke his ankle during the most critical year for college football recruitment.“It probably taught me the biggest life lesson I’ve had thus far when I was sitting in the car with a broken ankle, wondering whether or not I was going to be able to play college football,” Landisch said.Landisch had to get noticed by Division I programs and showing his skills on the high school field was not an option. Rather, he was forced to garner Wisconsin’s attention through summer camps.Despite the injury, Landisch fought his way to Madison after receiving a scholarship from the previous regime at Wisconsin.While not at linebacker, Landisch still managed to find playing time during his freshman season, playing in all 14 games – primarily on special teams – and won the 2011 UW Rookie of the Year Award.But even after a strong freshman season, playing time at linebacker didn’t appear to be on the horizon for Landisch anytime soon.Such distinguished Wisconsin players as Mike Taylor and Chris Borland were anchoring the linebackers going into the 2012 season, making it hard for Landisch to see the field. Even while he waited for his opportunity at linebacker, Landisch saw his time behind Taylor and Borland as a great opportunity.“You could look at it like, ‘It’s going to be tough, I might not get a chance to play,’ but it was also a blessing in disguise, the way I got to see those guys work and learn,” Landisch said. “I’d say that really helped me in my development at a young age was seeing how those guys prepared and how those guys took care of their business.”Once last season came to an end, Landisch immediately began looking forward to this season knowing it was finally his time to be a starting linebacker at Wisconsin. The likes of Taylor and Borland had since moved on and it was up to Landisch, and the other new starters, to make a name for themselves on a revamped defense.However, while this season is Landisch’s first as a starter, he came into it having played the second-most games on the team, although he started in only three of those games over the course of his first three seasons.“I played in a lot of football games and might not have had the label of a starter,” Landisch said. “But to me, if I’m rotating in every series, it doesn’t matter to me. Just getting that experience was really valuable. Football is football, so once you step in between the white lines it’s just time to play.“My mindset was I have to step up and be a leader and you have big shoes to fill. Not try to push it, but there is room for stepping up and I felt like I needed to step up and be one of the leaders on this defense,” Landisch said.Now, as one of the starting inside linebackers for Wisconsin, Landisch is finally making a name for himself. He has the most tackles for loss (10) and is second on the team in total tackles with 41. Landisch also leads the team in sacks (four) and has one of the team’s four interceptions on the season.For Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, it’s Landisch’s awareness and pre-snap reads that have thrust him into being one of the Badgers’ best defensive players.“[Landisch’s] quick to move,” Gary Andersen said in his news conference Monday. “If you watch him, whenever that ball is snapped, he’s got a key on whatever he’s supposed to be keyed in on, whether it be a tailback, a tight end that’s offset on the line of scrimmage. He’s not just setting there looking at seven guys and ‘periffing’ the ball is what we talk about, and once he gets there, he’s an athletic kid and a good tackler.”Landisch’s performance this season has been just one of a few strong performances from the rest of the linebackers this season. Along with Landisch, linebackers Joe Schobert, Vince Biegel and Marcus Trotter all rank in the top-five for tackles this season on the Wisconsin defense, making the linebackers one of the strongest positions on the field for UW.“Derek’s performance has been huge,” Biegel said. “Derek has been our rock in the middle. Me and Joe [Schobert] have been the anchors on the outside, so we’re going to continue to do that the rest of the season.”With a maximum seven games remaining in Landisch’s career at Wisconsin, he’s not looking too far in advance. For him, it’s about preparing only for the next game ahead, which is large reason as to why he may not only be the best linebacker at Wisconsin, but one of the best in the Big Ten.“I have no idea yet,” Landisch said of his future. “I’m just focused on Rutgers, taking it one week at a time.”Regardless of what the future may hold for Landisch, the lessons he learned from his high school injury keeps everything in perspective, and gives him motivation going forward.“Just keep your head down and keep working,” he said.