Neuville’s efforts rewarded with scholarship
By Mike Lucas
Zander Neuville knew he would get a chance someday to make a name for himself in a Wisconsin program that has a proud walk-on tradition.
He just didn’t know how long that would take or if anybody would be able to correctly pronounce his name when it happened.
“When I first got here, pretty much everyone (mispronounced Neuville),” the 2014 Waupaca High School graduate said. “I really don’t know why the ‘U’ is in there.”
A scholarship, on the other hand, is still priceless and Neuville was just awarded one, along with Ryan Connelly of Eden Prairie, Minn. Both play on defense; Neuville on the line and Connelly at inside linebacker.
Neuville said Wisconsin was always where he wanted to go, but college recruiters weren’t exactly flocking to Waupaca.
The Badgers offered him preferred walk-on status April 1, 2014, after he had committed to play at Minnesota State, a Division II school in Mankato, Minn.
“It was a no-brainer to come here,” said Neuville, the Eastern Valley Conference’s defensive player of the year in 2013. “Mostly D-II schools had been talking to me. Wisconsin was the one big-time school that gave me a shot.”
Many doubted Neuville’s ability to make the jump to a Big 10 program.
“There were some people and even some (college) coaches that were recruiting me saying, ‘We see you as a D-II kid,’” he said. “That was fuel to come here and prove them wrong.”
As a senior, Neuville was named first-team all-state after leading the Comets to a 10-1 record. He played linebacker on defense and a little bit of everything on offense, including running back, wide receiver and tight end. He was the team MVP and the school’s athlete of the year.
The Badgers projected him for defense and moved Neuville from linebacker to defensive end.
“It was definitely a big adjustment to the size of everybody and the speed of the game,” he said. “The hardest part was that I was only 225 pounds on my heaviest day.”
Neuville had his hands full on the defensive scout team.
“I was going up against guys like Rob Havenstein and Kyle Costigan and it wasn’t always easy,” he said. “It definitely made me a better player in the end.”
Havenstein and Costigan were the starting right tackle and guard, respectively. Both were fifth-year seniors and scaled well over 300 pounds.
“At first, it was no fun at all,” Neuville said. “During bowl practices, I got a little more confident with my game and, more specifically, my pass rushing ability. When spring practice rolled around, I just went in with a lot more confidence.”
It got better, and so did he.
“As the season went on, (former UW offensive lineman) Josh Oglesby was our scout team defense guy and he taught me a lot about technique and using the scout team as an opportunity to get better,” he said. “Big Rob and Costi were great about helping me out as well.”
By the end of the 2014 season, Neuville had gotten his weight up to 250 pounds.
“During bowl practices, I got a little more confident with my game and, more specifically, my pass rushing ability,” he said. “When spring practice rolled around, I just went in with a lot more confidence.”
UW strength coach Ross Kolodziej was a factor in Neuville’s offseason development.
“A huge thing was getting stronger, getting bigger and getting faster,” Neuville said. “If you would have told me in high school I’d be weighing over 260 a year from then, I would have told you that you were crazy.”
Neuville is carrying a little over 260 pounds today on his 6-foot-5 basketball frame. It’s why Neuville has earned a spot on Wisconsin’s “Peso” defensive alignment, which features only two down linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs in passing situations. Usually, he’s paired with Chikwe Obasih, a redshirt sophomore.
“I’m just kind of a situational pass rusher,” Neuville said. “A lot of times, we’re eating up double and triple teams, but coach (Dave) Aranda always has something up his sleeve and they never really know what’s going on (on offense). We’ll throw a lot of different stuff at them.”
The 19-year-old Neuville is also the Badgers’ backup long snapper.
“To be honest, when I first got there, I thought it might take a couple of years to get in the swing of things,” he said. “The coaches have all been great and the players have been helpful. Everybody here has been helping me get to this point.”
Throughout the years, the Badgers have excelled at evaluating under-recruited prospects and bringing them into the program as walk-ons who have gone to be steady contributors to the team. Connelly and Neuville are two more examples. Both players have considerable room to grow, too.
“I’m really excited about that,” Neuville said. “I’m happy with the progress that I’ve made. At the same time, I have four years to develop as a player mentally and physically.”
Article and photo reprinted with permission from UWBadgers.com