Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan's leadership is what sets him apart.

Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan's leadership is what sets him apart. Credit: AP/Morry Gash

LOS ANGELES — More than three years after a storied career at Sayville High School, Jack Coan hopes to make history in college football's most revered bowl game.

Coan will start at quarterback for eighth-ranked Wisconsin in Wednesday's Rose Bowl against sixth-ranked Oregon. In the process, the junior will fulfill a personal dream.

"I'm going to be super excited," Coan said. "You definitely watch the Rose Bowl growing up and see all the history of it, and to think that you're a part of it is pretty special."

A victory in the Rose Bowl — which would be the Badgers' first since 2000 — would give Coan a distinguished place in Wisconsin football's 130-year history. 

"You see tons of things about the Rose Bowl in our stadium," he said. "If you win the Rose Bowl, you get your year put up in the stadium. You see Rose Bowl teams coming back from 25 years ago. To think we could be part of that history, it would be pretty amazing."

Coan's excitement contrasts with the poise he developed during a tumultuous first season as Wisconsin's starting quarterback. Coan has completed 70 percent of his passes in 13 games for the Badgers (10-3) this season. He's thrown for 2,541 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions, and rushed for four touchdowns.

"He's battled through injuries," offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. "He's had games where everyone loved him. He's had games where he wished he had done better. You learn about who guys are as people and leaders. Are they steady? Are they going to be focused? Are they able to take things and grow from them? Are they able to handle successes and still have the same approach they had before?"

So what did Rudolph learn about Coan?

"Man, he's a steady, steady dude," he said. "I think this team really appreciates that about him, and that's probably where I've seen him grow the most. I think from that steadiness, I think his confidence has continued to grow. He realized he can be himself, and being himself can take him to some high levels."

By commanding his emotions, Coan learned how to command others.

"The way that he just stepped into that leadership role is the biggest thing," All-American running back Jonathan Taylor said. "When we have a 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1 and we're in the huddle, he's like, 'We need it, guys. We need it.' He's from New York so he's a tough guy. You can see that fire in his eyes."

Yet Coan prevents that fire from scorching his teammates.

"No matter if you mess up or do well, he's always saying, 'Atta boy! Let's go! Next play,' " Taylor said. "He praises you; he gives you the props that you need. If you're down, he tells you, 'Let's flush it. Next play.' He understands what needs to happen. He understands we need to make sure that the previous play doesn't affect the next play coming up. It's kind of soothing when you hear from Jack, 'Let's go. Next play. Let's go get it back.' "

Coan forged his leadership ability by committing himself to knowing his teammates as more than blockers, pass catchers and diagrams in a playbook.

"I definitely feel he connected well and built a lot of relationships this last offseason," said center Tyler Biadasz, another All-American. "Obviously, you have to get to know your players to share that same mindset of going out and competing. When you build your relationships, it makes the brotherhood you have with one another an even stronger bond. It's definitely big."

Building those relationships enables Coan to understand the best way to deal with each personality.

"By him getting to know each and every single teammate, he knows how to communicate with each and every single teammate," Taylor said. "That allows him to really connect."

Coan's approach reflects his personality.

"Jack is a very level-headed guy," wide receiver Quintez Cephus said. "He's very humble and generous. He cares a lot about us as brothers. He never talks about the football side of things. It's just a natural kind of thing that you get from him."

Coan enters the Rose Bowl after nearly engineering an upset of Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 7. His two rushing touchdowns gave the Badgers a 21-7 halftime lead before the Buckeyes rallied for a 34-21 win. Coan compiled at least 200 passing yards for the third consecutive game and rushed for a career-best 27 yards.

Yet when Taylor paid the ultimate compliment, statistics became irrelevant. 

"We trust Jack," Taylor said, "and we're ready to follow him."

The junior quarterback developed his leadership abilities in his first full season as the starter for the Badgers.

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