MADISON | Inoke Breckterfield isn’t saying Garrett Rand is the next Aaron Donald. But the Wisconsin defensive line coach sees the uncommon attributes that the true freshman and the player most consider to be the best defensive tackle in the NFL share.
“I’ve been bringing up Aaron Donald with Garrett since I recruited him,” Breckterfield said of Donald, who he coached for two seasons at Pittsburgh. “He has that mentality. He’s got the drive and the strength and the quickness and all that.”
Appearance wise, the comparison makes sense. Neither guy is the prototypical size for a college defensive lineman, each measuring in at under 6-foot-2 and less than 285 pounds. But they also have traits that can’t be measured scientifically.
“He’s not Aaron Donald, but (they’ve) got some similarities. That’s why I feel in love with the kid,” Breckterfield said. “I don’t give a rats about that height and size (because) he plays fast, he’s strong, he grinds and he loves football. That’s the part I love about him.”
Donald was a consensus All-American as a senior, when he won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors, along with sweeping the most prestigious awards possible for a defensive lineman, including taking home the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and the Outland Trophy. He went on to be a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2014 and has the potential to be the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL when he signs his next contract.
Rand, on the other hand, is just getting started. One of the top rated members of Wisconsin 2016 recruiting class, the four-star prospect from Arizona arrived with a lot of eyes on him. It’s what happens when a video of you bench pressing 500 pounds as a high school senior goes viral. And when word leaked that he called this summer’s performance of 33 reps at 225 pounds — the highest total on Wisconsin’s roster — an “off day,” the mythical aura around him continued to grow outside of the program.
But among his fellow players, few took notice. At least if you’re to believe defensive end Chikwe Obasih. Asked about Rand’s weight lifting feats, Obasih said he’d never seen the video and hadn’t heard about his team-high on the bench press.
“I have no idea about any of these numbers,” Obasih said. “Swear to God.”
The junior then turned to fellow defensive lineman Conor Sheehy and asked him if heard about it. Sheehy shook his head.
And Rand is just fine with that. Though proud of what he’s done, he has no intention of being known simply for his ability to rule a weight room. He wants to do it on the field. And to do it on the field, his technique, especially at his size, is paramount and something he focused on during the 21 practices in fall camp.
“I’m still thinking (too much) because it’s still new to me,” Rand said of the technique he uses at nose guard as opposed to what he was asked to do as a defensive end in high school. “I want to get everything right.”
The most significant difference is the amount of double teams he has to deal with from the center and either guard. As a nose guard, you’re there to hold the point of attack and not allow the players blocking you to get off to the linebackers. At 277 pounds, that’s much more difficult than if you’re 340 pounds like starting nose guard Olive Sagapolu. But Rand remains confident he can hold up despite the difference.
“I was always a person that didn’t want to get that heavy because I don’t think I’ll move as well,” Rand said. “The heaviest I’d ever want to get is maybe 300 pounds or 290. The strength I have (at my weight right now) is stronger than most defensive tackles.”
On Wisconsin’s first depth chart of the season, Rand is listed as the second-team nose guard, in front of redshirt sophomore Jeremy Patterson. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the second guy in when the Badgers open the season this Saturday against LSU.
Breckterfield loves Rand’s worth ethic and the effort he puts into every snap. The coach said Rand wants all the reps he can get and never asks to come off the field. But as of a week ago, Breckterfield still needed to see more.
“I’ve got to be confident I can put him in a game, and if I’m not, I don’t want to waste his (redshirt year),” he said. “I’m still waiting for that…(but) he’s getting better every day.”