Southward has been playing organized football for a little over three years, but the redshirt sophomore has already shown flashes of his potential. He played all 13 games last season, registering eight tackles on special teams, and was part of a key special teams play against Arizona State, teaming with Shelton Johnson to bring down Kyle Middlebrooks at the one-yard line to save a touchdown right as the half was coming to an end.
Now, Southward and Johnson are battling for the strong safety spot opposite senior Aaron Henry and under new safeties coach DeMontie Cross, is learning every day. Most importantly, Southward is happy to be participating in spring football after having an emergency appendectomy during winter conditioning.
Southward talks to Badger Nation about his growth and his speedy trip to the hospital.
Badger Nation: There is obviously a golden opportunity with Jay Valai being gone to start at strong safety. How have you approached these 15 practices and where do your strengths lie?
Southward: I just approach it as trying to learn every day, trying to get better at something every day. I feel like I have taken more steps forward than backward. I want to pick up something new and not be a repeat offender. That's kind of my motto for spring ball and just see what happens.
Badger Nation: Can you talk about the opportunity to play last year on special teams? What did that playing experience do for you in order to get your competitive fire going?
Southward: It was definitely great for me because I have very little football experience. It was great to get on the field, do something in front of 80,000 people and just compete at one of the highest levels. It was great for me, and feel like it's a step on the process because everyone wants more.
Badger Nation: Was that play against Arizona State just one play or does that play mean something more to you?
Southward: It's definitely just one play because that play basically sums up how we play as a team. We play to the whistle. We weren't going to give up until we got him down or he scored. That just shows how we play every play, so I don't think that's different than a one-yard gain or a 30-yard gain on offense or defense. It's just a play.
Badger Nation: What's the big thing you picked up from Jay Valai when you watched him on film or from the sidelines? What's something of his you are trying to incorporate in to your game?
Southward: I think Jay was very powerful and when I mean powerful, I mean with his calls. He was very sure of himself and that made everyone around him very comfortable. The safeties are basically the generals of the defense and if I can be a real general, make everyone comfortable and calm and I have all my calls right, everything will go a lot smoother. He had an overall feel for the game.
Badger Nation: Have you seen Aaron Henry step into that role also? It seems through spring ball that he has been the one very sure of himself and quarterbacking the defense?
Southward: Obviously Aaron had a great year last year so it's nothing new for him. He's just carrying over when he's been doing and he obviously leads by example.
Badger Nation: Talk about your new safeties coach. What do you like about him, how has that relationship gone since you first met him and what is he bringing to the table?
Southward: It's been great. The best thing he brings to the table for me personally is he is straight forward. He doesn't beat around the bush. If you mess up, he's going to tell you how bad you messed up. If you do well, he's going to tell you how well you did. He's constant, which I think is really great. He's making us more discipline and a better secondary.
Badger Nation: How much has Chris Ash been involved with you guys so far this spring? His scope is a lot bigger, so I am curious if he is involved with you as much as last spring or if he's let Coach Cross do his thing?
Southward: He lets Coach Cross do his thing with the safeties. He will obviously give us tips and pointers, but he's mostly with the corners and looking over the whole defense. Coach Ash is a great coach and I love him.
Badger Nation: After two thumb surgeries, how are your hands now?
Southward: My hands are great. They got fully healthy towards bowl prep where I actually took the cast off and started to play with my own hands, which was great for me because I could catch balls better, get off blocks better and do everything. It's made worlds of difference in my game and I feel confident. I was really comfortable in the Rose Bowl, because I didn't have a brace on and I knew coming into winter conditioning that I wouldn't have anything holding me back.
Badger Nation: You probably were anxious to accomplish a lot during winter conditioning seeing that you had two healthy hands for the first time since you had been here, but talk about the appendectomy and how scary that was?
Southward: I had a little cramps running through the first week of winter conditioning. One night, I just started throwing up, like five or six times in three hours, and I had that pain in my lower right side. I called our trainer and he told me that it sounded like the appendix and I needed to get to the emergency room. I called him at the right time and I got there before it burst, so I basically saved myself three or four weeks in the hospital.
Badger Nation: How long did you end up staying in the hospital?
Southward: I was in the hospital for about a week and a half. I had an abscess develop a day after they took my appendix out, which kept me there for another week.
Badger Nation: I am sure you lost a bunch of weight being the hospital. How much did you lose and are you back to where you want?
Southward: It's definitely a work in progress. I lost 21 pounds and I've only gained 10 of it back. Going into winter conditioning, I had it in my head that I wanted to gain about 10 pounds. So, I am about 20 pounds from where I want to be, but I am just going day by day and trying to make the most of it.
Badger Nation: Are you still happy with your first two weeks, considering where you were and the progress you've made?
Southward: I am definitely happy. I think these first couple weeks are a place to start at, but I know I can get much higher and that's what I plan on doing. I am going to go into summer camp trying to make great strides going into fall camp as far as my body, weightlifting, everything.
Badger Nation: How do you think the competition between you and Shelton is going to evolve? You are both fighting for the starting job, but one has to think you both are going to see the field. How do you approach this camp because of that?
Southward: I don't approach it so much as I am competing with Shelton because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if I am going with the first or second team, the coaches are going to see if I am doing my job. If I am doing my job, good things are going to happen for me. Were basically out there helping each other and whoever is making those plays, that's who is going to get the first chance. We all really close as a secondary though, no matter who is competing for a job.