There are some who consider a college connection to be vastly stronger than at the professional level. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re talking about, it’s the simple fact players choose their college, whereas professional levels choose their prospects.
This is likely why many players cling to those college roots and honor those no matter what.
When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, this rings true for those players who attended the University of Wisconsin. To be more specific, pass rushers who were Badgers at some point.
After the Steelers drafted Nick Herbig in the 4th Round of the 2023 NFL Draft, he and T.J. Watt, another former Badger, have been right next to one another.
“We’ve had many messages back and forth over the last two years,” T.J. Watt acknowledged during last weeks Organized Team Activities (OTAs). “I’ve been able to see him develop and grow as a pass rusher so I’m excited to have him in the room.
“I think he ended up reaching out to me. The outside linebackers coach there at some point probably reached out to me or we got connected through Instagram. We’ve been sending videos back and forth on how to do certain moves and just always pickin’ our brain on pass rush.”
Why would these roots run deep with Watt and Herbig? Is it just because they played the same position at the same college? Well, yes and no.
“It’s all the same, that’s why the Badger connection, it’s a very similar defense,” Watt explained. “It’s basically just plug in the defense into Rosetta Stone and figure out the translation for this defense.”
There is a reason the Steelers target prospects from specific college teams, and a lot of that has to do with their ability to plug and play in the team’s schemes. Wisconsin runs a very similar defense to what the Steelers deploy, and having players who don’t have such a learning curve is attractive to the Steelers in many ways.
Herbig isn’t the only former Wisconsin player wearing black-and-gold currently on the defensive side of the ball. Isaiahh Loudermilk was a Badger, 2nd Round 2023 draft pick Keeanu Benton, and Safety Scott Nelson all attended Wisconsin. Throw in Herbig and Watt and you have a long list of former Badgers who now call Pittsburgh home.
Where they come from is one thing, can they develop is another question altogether. Can Watt help Herbig turn into the type of player he became? I don’t think anyone is expecting a 4th Round pick to turn into a Defensive Player of the Year, but if under Watt’s tutelage he is able to develop Herbig into a rotational pass rusher along with Alex Highsmith, this defensive pass rush could be lethal.
Badgers stick together.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the rest of the 2023 NFL offseason.