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Wisconsin Badgers Come Together in Sickness and Laughter

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Kristofer Green

MADISON, Wis. -- Last week in Madison, the Wisconsin football team made the most of a sick situation. As many as 40 players were sick forcing coach Bret Bielema and his staff to make significant changes to their practice schedule.

"You know we don't usually practice on Fridays and I told the guys Thursday night because of the work we didn't get Tuesday we need to go out and practice and they didn't bat an eye," Bielema said Saturday.

The Badgers didn't complain, but instead went to work, the best they could, under less than ideal conditions.

"There were a few times you'd walk into the locker room and you'd hear some guy chucking into one of the garbage cans," said quarterback Scott Tolzien, who was ill early in the week. "You're just like, 'Well, looks like we've got one more on the flu list.' I saw it twice."

Wisconsin safety Chris Maragos intercepts Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn in the second overtime. The Badgers would kick a field goal to seal the 34-31 victory on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

The "outbreak" was an blessing in disguise for many players who used the miserable experience to bond with teammates. Pulling together in sickness and laughing through the agony.

"We were running from people," running back John Clay said. "If anybody coughed, everybody turned around and looked at them like, 'You ain't supposed to be coughing over here,' and (tried) to kick them out. But it was all in fun."

"If you throw up, you feel better,"Tolzien added with a huge grin. "You can joke with those guys when they toss it up; they were feeling great at the moment, so they were laughing too."

Though many players were feeling better by the time the Badgers kicked off Saturday against Fresno State in Camp Randall Stadium, some key players were still feeling ill.

"That's the part we were really scared about today, just guys that were sick and dehydrated," Bielema said Saturday. "I think we had a half-dozen guys getting IVs before the game even started."

Including cornerback Aaron Henry, who called the team trainer around 1:30 a.m. on Saturday complaining of nausea.

"(He) came down this morning, tried to eat and threw it up again," Bielema said. "We IV'd him, he tried to get up and take the field, but his body wasn't reacting."

And it showed. Henry tried to take the field, but was clearly a step slow and not at 100 percent. Bielema took notice and pulled Henry fairly quickly.

"I wasn't as comfortable as I would like to be," Henry said. "But they wanted to see what I was able to do that first series, and I wasn't really able to play to my ability."

Still, the Badgers pressed on and in the process showed an ability to overcome adversity that eluded them much of the 2008 season.

The tough Badgers, making no excuses, fought back from a 14 point deficit to finish the first half down by only four. Then intercepted Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn three times after the half to seal the victory.

Safety Chris Maragos, whose interception in the end zone on Fresno State's second overtime possession put Wisconsin in position to win the game, said the victory showed that the Badgers are maturing.

"It just shows our resiliency," Maragos said. "I think when you look at what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish, we have a bunch of tough guys and guys who are willing to work.

"That's what I love about this team. We may not be the most talented -- I mean, we're extremely talented, but we may not be the best -- but we have guys that are willing to work."

Asked if he had been ill this week, Maragos shook his head sheepishly before giving credit to a bottle of hand sanitizer that had been emptied through the week.

"I was hitting that thing all week," he said. "Every time I touched a door around here, I was just thinking that thing was my best friend all week."

Truer words have never been uttered.

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