Last week one of our writers, Sean Zak, wrote a column about holding back optimism for the Wisconsin football team in 2013.My simple question in response is, why?I understand last year’s new assistant hires and all of the transition that followed led to bumps and bruises, but there really isn’t much to worry about heading into the inaugural season of the Gary Andersen era.You don’t need to worry about the transition between coaching staffs for the players. If anything, this group of young men at Wisconsin showed how resilient and adaptive they are to adversity and change this past season.Most of the University of Wisconsin’s talent that will have their names on the initial two-deep for 2013 had the a firsthand opportunity to experience the kind of tough football Andersen produced at Utah State, so don’t worry about players not wanting to buy in to the new coaching staff.Almost losing to the Aggies at Camp Randall will do that to you.Don’t worry about the obstacles that come with the meshing of a new staff. Every new member on Andersen’s staff has worked for or with the head coach at some point, helping bring an atmosphere of familiarity, or, in Andersen’s words, the ability to “hit the ground running”.Don’t worry about conflicting viewpoints between coaches, like the ones that may have existed between Matt Canada and Bret Bielema in 2012. New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig worked with Andersen when he was at Utah, and Dave Aranda worked under the Badgers’ new head coach at Utah State, showing the level of trust and respect the Badgers’ new head coach has in his hires.So, there probably won’t be any firings at midseason this year.There was also that certain something that struck me during interviews with all the new hires earlier this January. Every single one of the coaches pointed to the chance to work with Andersen and his players-first style as their primary reason for coming to Wisconsin.I don’t have a perfect memory, but when I was going through this same process of meeting and greeting Wisconsin’s hires a season ago, I don’t remember Bielema being the No. 1 reason the coaches came to the school. So, based on first impressions and hearing about Andersen calling every single player on his Utah State roster to let them know he was leaving, I think I’m sold the entire Wisconsin football program, from top to bottom, is/will be sold on Gary Andersen.And another thing, how can you hold back optimism when so many key players return for this team?First team All-Big Ten middle linebacker Chris Borland? Check.No. 1 wide receiver Jared Abbrederis? Check.The entire group of eight players who made up the rotation of the defensive line in 2012? Check.Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and countless others? Check.Sure, star tailback Montee Ball is gone, but here’s a news flash: The Badgers won’t be lacking talent in the backfield.James White has been patiently waiting for three years to get his shot as a starter, but don’t think the speedy youngster Melvin Gordon won’t get his opportunity to steal the job.There was also a reference in last week’s column about how UW doesn’t reload every year like dynasty programs in college football.What? What about three straight trips to Pasadena?2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Badgers and what did they do? Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl and nearly beat Stanford, one of the most physical teams in the country. Of course there were the restrictions that led to UW being there in the first place, but the team showed they belonged in the top tier of the country once again with their play in the “Granddaddy of Them All.”And this upcoming season, Wisconsin has a senior class that is absolutely stacked. In fact, before Bielema departed he voiced his opinion that the 2013 team was going to be his best ever.I can understand why. After throwing in a plethora of new starters on both sides of the ball in 2012, it was to be expected that there would be growing pains, especially on offense, where the Badgers had to replace three starting linemen, a terrific fullback, a No. 1 wide receiver and that one guy who starts for Seattle.Now the Badgers return 15 starters, with eight on offense and seven on defense, while the new coaching staff will have their pick of several enticing options at the quarterback position, with three players who boast starting experience.Don’t forget, there’s an entire offseason for players to improve and make strides in both speed and strength.In my mind, there is absolutely no reason to cease optimism about 2013 and the future of this Wisconsin program. Not because I’m a homer – even though I’m a student at Wisconsin and grew up dreaming of being a Badger, so that’s my disclaimer to you, reader – but because an optimistic fan base with great expectations is one of the first steps (and measuring sticks) to creating the atmosphere necessary for continued success for Wisconsin.If there’s a football player or football team that doesn’t hold high expectations going into every season they’re in the wrong sport and the wrong place, and the same goes for fans. So, unleash that preseason optimism and hold nothing back. Hold this team to a high standard. Because when nothing but a Rose Bowl win is considered a successful season, you know you’re the fan of one of the best programs in the nation.And don’t forget … at Wisconsin, a national championship is a real possibility and the Badgers have been inching toward that for the past several years. Three years ago, the Badgers were a loss away from finishing the regular season undefeated. Two years ago, it was a pair of long distance heaves that derailed a dream season. This past year, it was losses by an average of under four points.The results are already there and Wisconsin’s reputation remains strong, one of the reasons I believe Andersen has largely held together this Badger recruiting class.So to Mr. Zak and all the pessimists out there, don’t worry.Be happy.Nick is a fifth-year senior majoring in history and English while pursuing dreams of entering law school. Love or hate the column? Let him know at email@example.com.
Faith. Family. Football.That is the motto of USC’s team, promoted strongly by their leader, head coach Clay Helton. Helton assumed the head-coaching role two days after the Trojans’ convincing 40-21 win over UCLA on Nov. 28.The motto has since been embraced by the team and is emblazoned on black hoodies that can frequently be seen around campus.Helton said in an interview with the Daily Trojan that selling kids on the team’s motto is one of his biggest recruiting tools.The words that Helton now lives by were taught to him by the same man who gave him his start as a coach: his father, Kim Helton.“My dad taught me there’s not a lot of time out there to be able to do other things, so concern yourself with three things: Faith, family and football, and that’s what I believe in,” Helton said.His coaching career began immediately following graduation. Helton spent two years at Duke, one as a graduate assistant and one as the running backs coach in 1996 but then moved to his alma mater and the school his father coached at — University of Houston, where he was the running backs coach for three seasons.“It’s not too many times you get to work for your best friend in life and your hero and that’s what my dad is to me,” Helton said. “I’ve learned so many lessons from him, not only as a young guy, but as a coach, and now as a guy that’s 43 years old.”FaithReligion is a big part of the football culture at USC, and it can be witnessed every time the team runs out of the Coliseum on Saturday. They all head for the end zone where many players take a knee and take a moment to pray.Religion is in the locker room, on the field and in tattoos.“We believe that no matter what religion you believe in, if you want to practice your faith, practice your faith and we support you,” Helton said.FamilyThe two-faced second moniker holds especially true for Helton, whose coaching career has been so intricately tied to his family. Getting a start from his father gave Helton the opportunity to develop not just his knowledge of Xs and Os, but develop his character as well.“He’s taught me how to be a husband, a father, a football coach and a leader of men,” Helton said of his father. “I’m very blessed to have a guy that isn’t only my best friend but also happens to be a really good football coach too.”Helton said he still talks to his dad two or three times a week.Helton’s parents live in Florida acting as caretakers for his grandmother, who is in her 90s. They take an annual trip to visit their son’s colleges though, and now that Helton has hired on his brother, Tyson Helton, as quarterbacks and passing game coordinator, Helton is hoping that his parents will be able to spend more time in California.Tyson Helton also played for his father at Houston before becoming the special teams coach at Hawaii. Most recently, he was the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky.“I’ve always known how talented a coach he is, but now to see it up close and personal is great,” Helton said. “To bring that dynamic to your football team, not only a guy that you love, but also an ultra-talented coach it makes you very proud as a head coach. I’m mad that he has more hair than me, and he’s a lot skinnier than me.”Helton has been able to surround himself with those he loves, no one more than his high school sweetheart, Angela Helton. Helton and his wife have quite the love story.Though Helton says he no longer looks the part, he was once the quarterback at Clements High in Sugar Land, Texas. Angela Helton was a member of the dance team that performed at the games.“I’ve been in love since I was 15, she figured it out at 17, and we’ve been in love ever since,” Helton said.Going into their 21st year of marriage, the Heltons have three kids of their own, including high school senior, Reid Helton, who is looking at USC as a possible college for next year.FootballAs spring football begins, Helton has his hands full implementing new concepts as well as incorporating freshman onto the team in what he expects to be a competition-filled spring season.“The beauty of spring ball is competition, and that’s where you establish yourself,” Helton said. “Over the past six years, we’ve had 15 freshman All-Americans, so here it’s about stepping on that practice field and competing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or a senior.”Spring isn’t just about football though. Helton said the program tries to get the players together as much as possible to promote the family-to-football tie.“We believe in the family aspect of things and the brotherhood, and to have that you’ve got to be together,” Helton said.Helton cited bowling and movies as two team favorites as well as Friday night dinners at local restaurants on road games during the season.In his first full season as head coach, Helton has a lot to juggle between deciding starting lineups, preparing for a full schedule of tough opponents and keeping off-the-field drama to a minimum. For him though, it’s much simpler than that when you are able to focus on the things that matter most: Faith. Family. Football.