​Hunter Wohler Leading Motivated Badger Defense Against LSU

December 20, 2023

Hunter Wohler Leading Motivated Badger Defense Against LSU

By Joey Johnston

Hard-hitting Wisconsin safety Hunter Wohler, a first-team All-Big Ten Conference player, has made a huge impact on the Badgers.

He's a big reason why Wisconsin (7-5) will face the SEC's LSU Tigers in the New Year's Day ReliaQuest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.

"Great player and great leader,'' Badgers coach Luke Fickell said.

But when Wohler really lowered the boom, helping to change the trajectory of Wisconsin's season, he wasn't in the box to stuff a runner or disrupt the passing game.

He was standing behind the podium in a somber post-game setting.

Wisconsin had just been defeated at home by Northwestern 24-10 on Nov. 11, putting the Badgers at .500 and severely compromising their postseason opportunities. As a team leader, Wohler spoke to the media afterward.

Mirroring his playing style, Wohler didn't hold back.

"Where to go right now, I don't know, but we have to find a way,'' Wohler said. "We have to figure it out - and we will. We're soft. We're not physical. That's not how this game works, especially in the Big Ten.

"This is not what I came to Wisconsin for, to be completely honest. This is miles different from what I grew up watching. And obviously, I take responsibility for it, being part of the team. This is not what Wisconsin football represents. Our backs are up against the wall like they've never been before.''

Wisconsin promptly defeated Nebraska 24-17 in overtime, then downed Minnesota on the road 28-14 to become bowl-eligible.

Clearly, Wohler cares - a lot.

"This place means the world to me,'' said Wohler, 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, of Muskego, Wisc. "Being able to play for the home state and everything that comes with being a Badger is special.''

Wohler nearly chose Ohio State out of high school, where his teams went 37-0 and won two state championships, but the emotional ties of his home state were too strong. He has had ups and downs, including a broken leg in last season's opener that limited him to just six games in 2022, but he has broken out into a full-fledged star.

Working in the 3-3-5 defensive alignment of first-year coordinator Mike Tressel, Wohler often lines up closer to the box, almost resembling a linebacker. He has thrived, registering 113 tackles, the most by a Badger defensive back since Reggie Holt in 1991.

"This season has had some inconsistency and it was a tough year I won't lie,'' Wohler said. "But to be able to finish like that with the stress we went through, there aren't a lot of teams that could bounce back and win two rivalry games and bring home two trophies.

"That's a testament to the culture of this program and the guys in the locker room. It's a huge stepping stone for the future and great momentum going into the bowl game.''

After being confronted with the possibility of missing the postseason, the Badgers are now preparing for LSU.

"I did not see us getting the opportunity to play a team of this caliber (LSU),'' Wohler said. "But now we get the chance and I can't wait. It's a talented group with a lot of good athletes.

"But you know what? We've got some good athletes of our own. So it's going to be fun, a good battle, a good test. How well will we prepare? How well will we train. Ultimately, how well will we compete?''

About six weeks ago, Wohler had his doubts about the Badgers' heart. Those questions were answered - maybe because of the response to his impassioned post-game address.

Wohler will take the field on New Year's Day with great pride. He's a Wisconsin guy. And as everyone knows by now, he cares.