Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After Wednesday's practice, Wisconsin defensive end O'Brien Schofield was having a hard time charging his cell phone.
"Aw, man, terrible," Schofield said. "You know phone chargers these days die out real fast."
Fortunately for the Badgers, the same can't be said for Schofield. His battery is fully charged this season, and he provides a major jolt to the Wisconsin defense every time he steps on the field.
After a fairly quiet career, Schofield has been the Big Ten's biggest surprise on defense this fall, not to mention one of the nation's true breakout performers. The senior from Great Lakes, Ill., leads the nation in tackles for loss with 14.5, 2.5 more than any other defender, and leads the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks, 2 more than anyone else. Schofield has recorded at least 2.5 tackles for loss in four games and could challenge Tom Burke's amazing single-season school record of 31.5 tackles for loss in 1998.
Not bad for a guy who entered the season with only five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in 31 games during his first three seasons.
"Did I expect it? Yes. Did I know it was really going to happen? Didn't really know until we saw the bullets start flying," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "He's playing as high a level as anybody that I've been around since I've been here at Wisconsin.
"To be leading the nation in tackles for loss, that doesn't just come about by luck. He worked very hard to get there."
The odds have been stacked against Schofield for much of his career. Bielema often tells NFL scouts the story of how Wisconsin signed five linebackers in its 2005 recruiting class.
Two of them, DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, started three seasons for the Badgers before moving on to the NFL. Another, Travis Beckum, switched to tight end and became an All-American before heading to the pros. Elijah Hodge started alongside Levy and Casillas in 2007 before seeing his role diminish. He eventually transferred to Northern Iowa.
The fifth was Schofield.
"We all came in together, so my plans at linebacker here weren't too bright," said Schofield, who played defensive end in high school. "It was very hard to get on the field. So [Bielema] gave me an opportunity to play defensive end. That was something I was accustomed to, and it worked out for me."
At just 248 pounds, Schofield is a smaller end. To combat his size, he made major strides this offseason with his fundamentals, techniques, footwork and overall strength.
Wisconsin's new strength coach, Ben Herbert, brought in a new program this winter that suited Schofield and his fellow defensive linemen, who dominated team competitions in the weight room.
"What we did in the offseason, I can't even explain," Schofield said. "I improved my strike. I just feel so much more explosive. The things we did in the weight room, it definitely got my confidence up. I basically built my own little swagger.
"A lot of people underrate how strong I am, and that works to my advantage."
Schofield set several individual goals for his senior season, including a mark of 14.5 sacks that he still could reach. He didn't think much about tackles for loss totals, but above all, he wanted to be an impact player on defense.
No one would dispute that right now.
"He may be small in nature, but plays a little bit bigger just by how he does things," Bielema said. "He plays with a purpose. Last week [at Ohio State], on his tackles for loss, he threw that offensive player down with a little bit of vengeance.
"He's a guy, whether you coach him or coach against him, he gets a lot of respect just by the way he plays the game."
Schofield has earned the respect of Iowa star left tackle Bryan Bulaga, the man he'll face Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium (ESPN, noon ET).
"O'Brien, he's a fast guy," Bulaga said. "He gets the edge on a lot of tackles. He has quick moves, he's a smart player and he gets to the football."
Schofield saw quite a few max protection schemes last week at Ohio State and expects similar treatment from here on out. But he has no plans to let up.
"I expect to get double-teamed, but if I don't, great," he said. "I'll try to take advantage of as many one-on-ones as possible."