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.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.