Fenton Finds his Tune

A.J. Fenton (Moebius/12)

Admitting that he had struggled through his first three seasons at Wisconsin, redshirt junior linebacker A.J. Fenton has found his rhythm, turning in the best stretch of practices in his tenure to put him in the mix for a starting linebacker spot.

MADISON - For the last three years, A.J. Fenton has been one of the stars of the Buckingham Awards, an award gala that recognizes UW student athletes and includes performances by student athletes. Fenton has been one of the chosen few selected to perform, and often plays the guitar while sitting on a barstool with his long hair and full beard on display.

Fenton did the same this year but did it with a buzz cut and only a 5 o'clock shadow, going with a haircut that UW coach Bret Bielema said cost him about three pounds of hair. It fits right in because just like Fenton picked up playing guitar quickly, he has picked up his level of play in the UW defense.

Having one of the best camps of any UW player, Fenton has worked his way into the rotation with the first-team defense at the outside linebacker position, and tells Badger Nation he's done by losing weight, getting a fresh start and making the best of another first impression.

Bielema said your first three weeks were as good as you have had here. Do you agree with that and do you feel you are making some positive strides in camp?

Fenton Yeah, I would say so. I have struggled the past three years with injuries and picking up the game on the defensive side. I definitely would say it's starting to click more and come together the last couple weeks. I would it's been my best stretch since I have been here.

One would look at your high school history and say the reason you struggled because you played so many different positions at Erie HS. Was it nice for you to focus on one position when you got here and why did it take you awhile to adjust?

Fenton: I don't know if you can use that as an excuse, but coming here and having one position is nice for anybody. Ask anybody on the offensive line about switching between guard and tackle and they'll tell you it's a lot easier to know one and hone one and be the best you can be at that position. It's helped me after awhile to get into that role, know where I am at, learn it and study it. I definitely would say it's helped, but I wouldn't use my high school career as an excuse.

Why do you think then that this camp has gone so well for you? Is it simply experience?

Fenton: Experience and maturity. We all grow up sooner or later. I've started to pick up more and see the game for three years at high speed, as high as it's going to get. I would attribute it to maturity.

When did the light bulb go on you think?

Fenton: You know what, probably practice five which was the first practice after spring break. The first couple practices, you haven't played in 10 weeks so everyone is a little rusty, but I got back from spring break and I felt good. I felt a lot better and like the weight that I am at.

Talk to me about your weight. How did you use winter conditioning to help your body be ready for the spring and the fall?

Fenton: I got with (strength coach Ben) Herbert and I told him that I wanted to lose a couple pounds and feel a little bit better. I wanted to move better and he was excited for it. I've been keeping pretty true to it. I am 220 now and I feel a lot better moving, running, taking on blocks and my energy is up. I lost 10 pounds.

A lot of people use winter to gain weight and be stronger but you did the opposite. Do you feel that it has been a big benefit?

Fenton: I do. I think last season I got a little overweight as far as my weight goes, about 230 to 235 pounds. I was struggling with my hamstrings, struggling to run, struggling to stay healthy and I wasn't eating the right kinds of foods. As soon as I started eating right, I metabolism started to back up and with the lifting, I haven't lost any strength in my legs or my upper body. I just lost a couple pounds and everything feels better.

Has it been hard that you've had three different linebacker coaches in your tenure – Dave Doeren, Dave Huxtable and Andy Buh?

Fenton: It's been hard, of course. You get a different style from each of them, but it's been good because the amount I struggled early in my career doesn't prevent me from giving a first impression. That's good for a guy like me. I can't complain.

What is Buh teaching you that you really embrace?

Fenton: I love his technique. I love his technique in the pass game and taking on blocks. He brings a lot of good stuff to the table that it's hard to describe all of it.

You talk to some seniors and they will say they feel they need to make something happen because it's their last year. Although you are a redshirt junior, do you feel a sense of urgency yet ?

Fenton: Yeah, you definitely start to feel it, especially now with where I am at. Some say they start to feel it their redshirt sophomore year. Definitely now you start to push that urgency button where every rep counts and every play matters a little bit more because you are on your way out. You are no longer a rookie and you are no longer learning things. You are supposed to be experience, ahead of the curve and see things before they happen.

How much has this stretch of practices boosted your confidence going into the spring game?

Fenton: Yeah, and I think a hug part of the game is confidence. Once you get that, I think that's one of the biggest factors of me doing well lately is my confidence has picked up. Being at the linebacker position and be matched up with running backs and receivers and taking on blocks, it's really helped me.

What about the strong side linebacker position are you comfortable with this spring?

Fenton: I've been working at it the last two years and I love being out in space. I love being out with receivers and running, but the great thing with the same position is you get to do that and then come down on the line and play a tight end face to face in man to man. I love both aspects of it – getting in the trenches fighting and getting out to run.

Do you feel with 10 less pounds that you still have your physicality?

Fenton: Yes. I feel like my strength is right where it needs to be. I don't feel I have lost any. I just feel a lot better overall. It was definitely the right move to make.

You are battling with Conor O'Neill for reps right now and Ethan Armstrong will hopefully be back sometime this summer. Competition is something you embrace, so how do you feel you have put yourself in position to handle that competition?

Fenton: It is something I embrace and it's something every athlete should embrace because it makes us all better. You want to be on top of your game every day and you are preparing for your practices, scrimmages and everything else a lot more when you are competing with somebody and they are right on you. I think that's a good thing and Ethan coming back is only going to heighten it for the both of us.

Off topic a little bit, how did you get so good at the guitar?

Fenton: I didn't start playing until I was a senior in high school. I just picked it up on a whim as something to do after school when football was over. Have been playing ever since, just teaching myself how to play by using YouTube, websites and what not. I wouldn't say I am that good at it, but I picked it up pretty easily and I enjoy doing it. So, I am going to keep doing it.

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