Evan Bondoc

Badgers safety Evan Bondoc celebrates an interception in the second quarter of Wisconsin's 49-20 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. 

The setting made things seem even more magical for Evan Bondoc.

Already given his first career start at safety for the University of Wisconsin football team on Saturday against Illinois, the redshirt senior from Madison Edgewood found himself in a snow globe-like environment when he made two other memories.

In the span of five defensive plays in the second quarter, Bondoc forced a fumble and intercepted a pass.

He did them while wind whipped flurries around Camp Randall Stadium, making the mental highlights that Bondoc will carry that much more dream-like.

"That's kind of what you ask for in a Wisconsin game, isn't it, a lot of snow and blowing winds?" Bondoc said. "A couple guys said on the sideline, it's old school, traditional football."

Bondoc's rise to a starting role in the secondary was a product of the deep cuts to the depth that injuries have made on the Badgers in the last few weeks. But the way he carried himself in Saturday's 49-20 Badgers victory had his head coach and teammates heaping praise on him.

"He's earned every bit of that," said linebacker T.J. Edwards. "A guy who's worked his butt off to get on any team he can — special teams, defense. He's always been super reliable. So when he got his shot, I was super excited for him, to see what he was doing out there."

A 2014 Edgewood graduate who made the all-city team twice, Bondoc appeared in only 10 games over his first two UW seasons after a redshirt year. He took on a reserve role in 2017.

His total statistical résumé over his first three seasons: Eight tackles — never more than two in a game — and a lot of zeroes.

With safeties D'Cota Dixon, Scott Nelson and Reggie Pearson out Saturday because of injuries, the Badgers again went deep into the depth chart.

Like in last week's loss at Michigan, the secondary didn't fold. The 90 yards that a struggling Illinois pass offense managed was the lowest by a Badgers opponent this season.

"We still have a lot of stuff to work on and there's always stuff we can clean up," Bondoc said. "We're just always trying to play the perfect game. And we know that's not going to happen, but we've just got to keep working and keep getting better and have the young guys learn and always grow."

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Bondoc made his mark in the second quarter. He punched the ball out of Illinois running back Dominic Stampley's arms in Badgers territory, but the Illini recovered. One play later, UW forced another fumble and recovered.

After the Badgers punted, Bondoc helped foil another Illinois possession when he camped out underneath a floating AJ Bush Jr. pass and secured his first interception.

"It was snowing and little windy at that point, so it was kind of hard to read it," Bondoc said. "But I just got in the position and was lucky enough to make the play."

The way Badgers coach Paul Chryst saw it, luck didn't play much of a role in that play or the others that Bondoc made.

"Bondy's worked a ton," Chryst said. "You don't just get ready for this opportunity last week or this week. It's been stuff he's been doing for his whole career here."

His teammates recognized that and celebrated the turnover that Bondoc created and the career-high five tackles, including his first tackle for loss.

"I just think he's such a good leader by example," Edwards said. "You never have to worry about him messing up mentally or being in the wrong spot. He's done anything he can possibly do to get on the field. His number was called today, and he made more plays than anybody. It's definitely something exciting to see."

Like just about any UW player from Madison, Bondoc had the idea of starting in a game at Camp Randall at an early age. It took him a little longer than some others, but he made it.

He said the questionable status of those ahead of him on the depth chart made it difficult to know whether he'd start Saturday. He just had to be prepared to play.

Kind of like he has been for the last four years.

"It's something (defensive coordinator Jim) Leonhard talks about all the time, just trusting it," Bondoc said. "When you get out there, just go all out and don't look back. Go have fun and make plays. It was a lot of fun today."


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