Through five games, freshman Chris Borland has done nothing special, just playing blue-collared football on defense and special teams in hopes of making an impact. No flash, no zest, no big ego – Borland comes to work everyday and does all the dirty work, leaving him bloodied, bruised and with a huge smile on his face.
No wonder a state full of hard-working people have taken such a shine to the kid.
"I was reading a message board and it said some thing like, ‘Superman wears Chris Borland pajamas,'" said senior linebacker and roommate Jae McFadden with a laugh. "Chris is like Superman out there sometimes."
Rest assured, Borland doesn't laugh at Superman for having a weakness or claim, like a message board poster, that the primary ingredient in Red Bull is his own sweat, but what the self-described role player from Archbishop Alter High is doing for Wisconsin this season warrants the praise, although he would be the last person to accept it.
"It's been a lot of fun, and it's going well, but a lot of credit has to go to the defensive line because they are playing out of their mind," Borland said. "They don't get enough credit."
Through five games, Borland's play has earned him plenty of honors. Already named Big Ten Special Teams Co-Player of the week in his young career, Borland has 11 tackles (seven on special teams), 1.5 quarterback sacks, two pass breakups, and has forced and recovered a fumble.
"He's special, very, very special," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "That's the kind of kid you can build something around.'"
Being a key pass-rushing ingredient in Wisconsin's 3-4 package, and recovering the game-clinching fumble at Minnesota, Borland has made the majority of his plays on Wisconsin's kickoff, kickoff return and punt return units; groups that desperately needed a shot of adrenaline.
Against Wofford alone, Borland made four special teams tackles and blocked a punt by splitting through the line unblocked and launching his 5-foot-11, 235-pound frame over the two-man wedge protecting punter to get a hand on the ball before cartwheeling to the turf.
Even then, Borland refused to take credit for the touchdown play, as Borland's block sent the ball into the end zone where fellow freshman David Gilbert leaped on it for the score.
"(Senior linebacker) Erik Prather coached me up on some technique because he had done it before," Borland said. "A lot of credit goes to him."
Despite knowing it would be difficult to crack the starting lineup due to the immense talent at linebacker, Borland wanted to play this season, leading him to the special teams sector so he could be on the field as much as possible.
"Big-time plays are made on special teams," he said. "It's an opportunity. A lot of times they go unnoticed, but the plays made can be game changing. It depends on your attitude on how you approach it. Playing on special teams is an honor and a lot of fun."
It also could be rewarding. After he gave the Badgers a game-changing special teams play, Bielema promised Borland, if the situation allowed him to, that if he scores a touchdown or makes a play that leads to a special teams touchdown, Borland could kick the extra point.
"We're serious about it. If for any reason (Phil) Welch couldn't kick, we don't want to take away (Alec) Lerner's redshirt just for an extra point. If we do it, it'll be fun, definitely another memory I am looking forward to. I don't think the fourth quarter or overtime of the Ohio State game I will be kicking an extra point."
Saturday's game against the ninth-ranked Ohio State (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) will be a homecoming of sorts for Borland, who grew up in Kettering, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton that's 75-miles west of Columbus.
One player that will be watching with great anticipation on Saturday is Cody Byers, a good friend and former teammate of Borland that is verbally committed to Wisconsin's 2010 class and, according to scouts, is just as good an athlete as he is.
Just like Borland, who is well on his way. How can he not be? After all, Chris Borland breathes pain instead of oxygen.
More importantly, Chris Borland does not sleep. He waits.