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.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.