BY MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
MADISON, Wis. — On the week leading up to a road game, the routine didn't change appreciably for tailback Chris James, a transfer from Pitt; or cornerback Nick Nelson, a transfer from Hawaii.
Both carried out their assignments on the scout team in preparation for the opponent. Both took pride in the role they played. Both reassured each other about their future in the program.
That was the extent of their participation through Thursday. Since they were ineligible to compete or travel, they were left behind to "wing it" when the Badgers left town.
"I hated it," Nelson said, "because I was at home eating wings when they were playing."
He wasn't alone. James was one of his roommates.
"We sat at our place and ordered some wings," James confirmed, "and wished we were there."
There in the Big Ten was East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Iowa City, Evanston and West Lafayette.
"We used to talk about it as, 'Hey, just another redshirt chronicle night,'" James said.
Like a diary, everything was recorded and filed away.
"We were part of the game plan during the week," said James, "and seeing it all unfold on Saturdays was actually pretty cool to watch. Me and Nick were in the same situation. We were like, 'Man, I think I could play right now.' But we can't. You know what I'm saying?
"That forced both of us to be in a different position. Rather than being players, it was almost like we were number one supporters since we were on the team but couldn't play. We had to understand our roles as a teammate and we had to help those guys (get ready)."
This spring, James and Nelson have been readying themselves for playing time. Nelson has stepped into the void left by the graduation of Sojourn Shelton and has been working with the first team at cornerback opposite Derrick Tindal. Meanwhile, James has been sharing turns at tailback with Bradrick Shaw as they seek to replace the productive tandem of Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale.
"The year off allowed me to work on my craft," James said. "I really didn't see it as a year off, since it was more of a year of work. I was watching a real good team play and, every single day in practice, I got to go against the number one defense that was doing some amazing things on Saturdays. So, it was a blessing to even take reps against those guys. I know it helped me get better as a player."
Nelson felt the same way, especially since Shelton was such a willing mentor.
"I actually still hang out a lot with Sojourn," said Nelson. "We'll still watch film together. The other day, we were watching the little stuff that he does. He's smaller, so his feet are quick. If I can apply that to my game, I can get so much better. I already feel like I got better mentally (since August). That's a big part of it, along with the weights. I got stronger and faster and learned new techniques."
Photo: Wisconsin Badgers
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