Pride of Hawaii: Nick Herbig ready to lead Wisconsin’s defense

Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin outside linebacker Nick Herbig‘s teammates noticed something different about him as soon as he arrived on campus two years ago.

The audacity that enabled him to pick a school over 4,000 miles away from his Hawaii home helped make Herbig an immediate weapon for a defense that annually ranks among the nation’s best. As the Badgers replace eight of their top 10 tacklers from last season, they’ll have to count on Herbig for leadership.

According to his teammates, he’s been providing that all along.

“He came out here doing stuff we haven’t seen in a freshman,” defensive tackle Keeanu Benton said. “Even verbally, freshmen usually don’t come in speaking up and stuff like that. He came in, knew what he was doing, and once he figured his stuff out, he was helping his teammates.”

Herbig had 14 + tackles for loss and a team-high nine sacks last season for a Wisconsin defense that allowed the fewest yards per game and yards per play of any Bowl Subdivision team. He’s an Associated Press All-America second-team preseason selection heading into the 18th-ranked Badgers’ Sept. 3 opener with Illinois State.

He says the fire he brings to the field come from spending his childhood with two older brothers in Kauai, Hawaii.

One of his brothers, Nate Herbig, is a New York Jets guard who spent three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Herbig says their father fostered a competitive household that “made us hate losing more than we love winning.”

“Anything in the world, you name it – cards, who could drink their water faster at dinner, who could eat their food faster, who could wash their clothes and fold it the fastest, just random stuff,” Herbig said. “Everything was who could do it the best. At the time, I wasn’t a big fan of it, but I know that it paid off.”

Herbig didn’t anticipate bringing that competitive spirit to Wisconsin.

“Honestly, at first, I was like, `There’s no way,’ ” Herbig said. “I didn’t even know where Wisconsin was.”

He had a change of heart after researching Wisconsin’s program and discovering the Badgers had a knack for shutting down Big Ten offenses each year.

“They always had good linebackers, they always had a great defense and a great culture,” Herbig said.

Herbig even helped recruit good friend Kamo'i Latu to Wisconsin when the former Utah safety entered the transfer portal this year. Latu and Herbig were teammates at Saint Louis School in Honolulu, the same high school that produced NFL quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa.

“Me and Nick, as kids, we looked up to Marcus Mariota, Tua, a bunch of other kids that came out of our high school,” Latu said. “We felt we needed to set a standard for our class, the class of 2020.”

Herbig also is setting a standard for Wisconsin’s defense.

He understands his responsibilities as the defense’s top returning playmaker. He remembers watching so many seniors from last year’s defense walk off the field disappointed after a loss at Minnesota that cost the Badgers a Big Ten championship game appearance.

“I kind of promised myself I’m never going to let something like that happen again,” Herbig said.

Herbig spent the offseason working on his leadership skills, realizing different players respond to different types of encouragement.

“The more vocal he gets the better, because he puts it all out there every day,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “He cares. He shows that. He wears his heart on his sleeve.”

He also carries his home-state pride with him.

Herbig occasionally brings a taste of Hawaii to Wisconsin, whether he’s cooking teriyaki dishes, sharing care packages or enjoying Spam musubi, a snack featuring a slice of Spam over a bed of rice and wrapped in seaweed.

After the Badgers’ Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State last season, Herbig even brought Benton and fellow teammates Kaden Johnson and Rodas Johnson back to Hawaii for a brief visit.

“We had a good time, probably gained about 10 pounds each,” Herbig said.

Hawaii will always be part of his identity, but he’s found a second home up north. The two places have more in common than he ever expected.

“Faith, family and football – I find that’s huge here in Wisconsin,” Herbig said. “That’s big back home, too.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.