clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Book Review: Walk-On This Way - The On-Going Legacy of the Wisconsin Football Walk-On Tradition

Yes, I read a book about Wisconsin football.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

"I say year in and year out, consistently, Wisconsin seems to me to have – certainly in the Big Ten – the best walk on tradition," said Big Ten network studio host David Revzine.

"While I'm more familiar with the Big Ten in the last decade most closely, it seems to me that in terms of getting consistent production from walk-on's in key positions, I can't imagine there's anyone getting more out of their walk on program than Wisconsin."

That is a statement on page 16 from a book called, "Walk-On This Way: The Ongoing Legacy Of the Wisconsin Football Walk On Tradition”. The book is co-authored by Joel Nellis and Jake Kocorowski. Nellis was a walk-on tight end for the Badgers from 2001-2006. He earned a scholarship his final two seasons, and started every game his senior season on special teams. Kocorowski writes and editors for SBNation Wisconsin site Bucky's 5th Quarter.

Kocorowski sent me his book after I'd asked about it. My purpose in reading about it was to learn more about Wisconsin football. I reviewed Barry Alvarez' autobiography, "Don't Flinch", all the way back in 2007 – long before anyone thought it possible that Nebraska would join the Big Ten to play Wisconsin on a yearly basis.

Alvarez' book was enjoyable and I still have it somewhere. I have enjoyed watching Wisconsin football for some years now and I still do, even though they have embarrassed my beloved Huskers on too many occasions. I grew accustomed to watching Big Ten football long before most Husker fans given that I've lived in Minnesota since 1987.

"Walk-On This Way" is about what I expected as a book. It has glory stories about teams and players that are fun for fans to read. It's certainly more fun reading when your team is the subject of the book, but that doesn't make the stories of teams or players any less interesting – at least most of the time.

What struck me about the book was the juxtaposition between Nebraska and Wisconsin football. Certainly both are deeply connected in their success. Both can trace their success directly back to Bob Devaney. Devaney needs no introduction to Nebraska fans. Alvarez, who built Wisconsin football from ashes (much like Devaney did for Nebraska, post-World War II), played for Devaney and then took his first head coaching position in Lexington, Nebraska. Alvarez took many of his ideas from Devaney, including the concept of using non-scholarship "walk-on" players to fill potential gaps in recruiting.

Walk-on's have been important in building Wisconsin's success over the years, just as they have been important to Nebraska. The book makes this very clear especially in Alvarez' early years at Wisconsin as he had inherited a horrible program and had to find players anywhere he could.

Player stories abound – Mark Tauscher, Joe Panos, Josh Hunt, Jack Cichy, Jason Doering, Joe Schobert, and of course, probably the most famous Wisconsin walk-on of all, JJ Watt. There are some pretty good stories.

What I found most interesting, however, were the stories of two coaches who were also Nebraska coaches on the most unsuccessful coaching staff of the post-Devaney era.

"He started the 'Pit Bulls,', and was just an amazing, fiery coach. He had a great attitude that really got you going," Manley said of Norvell. "That was really the moniker for the group because he just wanted to stir everyone up, get everybody excited liike a pack of rabid dogs. He would encourage us to really set the one for kickoffs and kickoff returns. - About Jay Norvell, page 33.

Ask any Husker fan about Jay Norvell, and they'll probably scrunch their face. They may not remember him. Norvell coached offensive line, wide receivers, and tight ends at Wisconsin from 1989-1994. He's listed as being Nebraska's offensive coordinator during the Bill Callahan era, but that job really belonged (and was tattooed on) Callahan, while Norvell helped with the quarterbacks.

The other coach mentioned in the book, and apparently held in high regard in Wisconsin is none other than Kevin Cosgrove, who was defensive coordinator for the Badgers from 1995-2003.

Wisconsin's offense rolled over opponents by putting up 31.8 points and 215 yards rushing per contest, while the defense built a wall around each end zone they defended. The Badgers held opponents scoring to just 11.9 points per game, amongst the best in the nation. Seven of Wisconsin's 12 opponents failed to score seven or more points against defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove's unit, which also had two shutouts. - About Cosgrove's 1998 Badger defense, Page 53

Ask a Nebraska fan about Cosgrove and they might just punch you in the face. He just couldn't figure out how to defend against the spread offenses and the zone read the conference was running. For that and the 2007 defense, he's reviled forever in at least one state in the nation.

I enjoyed the book (mostly), because I enjoyed the years before Wisconsin and Nebraska would meet on a yearly basis. I would enjoy Badger football a helluva lot more if they would just lose to us in Madison more often. And then lose always in Lincoln. Maybe they could be the new Oklahoma, with the Huskers and Badgers crushing everyone else in the Big Ten West, then meeting for a division title every year. I have enjoyed the trips I've made to Madison. Were the Badgers to become the new Oklahoma, and Oklahoma go away to never join the Big Ten, but instead go straight to hell for having chose Texas, I would be fine. Happy, even, because I can't think of a single good beer from Oklahoma.

Normally, I'd state who the book is for, but in this case, I'm kind of doubting that many Nebraska fans will be buying this book. You'd learn more about Wisconsin football if you did, and you'd be able to name drop with the best of them Badger fans.

Speaking of "best of" - the absolute best part of the book? I can't find the phrase 'Wisconsin scores again', with regards to Nebraska anywhere in it.