Last season, as teammates all around him on the defensive line were struck down by injuries of all sorts, Nick Hayden stood tall. The then-sophomore started all 13 games at defensive tackle for UW — the only member of the defensive front four to do so — and led all defensive linemen in tackles and all players in sacks.For someone who had only played in parts of five games as a true freshman, the experience was invaluable.”Game experience … getting experience under my belt and just making plays last year has helped me be a better player this year,” Hayden said.First-year defensive line coach Randall McCray expanded, “Anytime you can get a young man on the field, that experience is invaluable. [Coaches] can’t simulate it on the practice field, can’t simulate it in a scrimmage … until you’re playing against the opposite colored jersey.”He’s got that experience, and what that does is put him and Joe Monty into a leadership role.””I try to [take a leadership role in the huddle] a lot,” Hayden said. “I try to get everyone up, congratulate them after a big play, and make big plays myself.”Through five games, Hayden has collected 10 tackles, with two of those coming for a loss. And while he may not rank among the team leaders in those categories, his effort is still there.”The thing that sticks out to me most on film is that sucker chases the ball,” McCray said of Hayden. “He’s running the ball down to the sidelines; he’s not always making the play, but he’s chasing the son-of-a-gun.””He’s a real hard worker,” sophomore defensive end Matt Shaughnessy added. “He’s always helping everyone out, like if someone needs a [defensive] call.”That effort has carried over to the practice field this year. After UW head coach Bret Bielema said earlier this year Hayden “doesn’t know how good he could be,” Hayden took that as a challenge to raise his level of intensity at practice.”I’m just trying to keep improving and keep working hard and improve from game to game,” Hayden said.Since joining the staff this past offseason, McCray has noticed marked improvement in Hayden’s overall game.”From the start of two-a-days until now, he’s a totally different player,” McCray said. “He uses the best technique up front for us, right now.”The roots of that good technique can be traced back to high school, but interestingly enough, not necessarily in the game of football. Aside from being named conference defensive player of the year for football twice, Hayden garnered the same honor for basketball as a senior. Some of the same attributes that made him a great basketball player transfer over to the football field.”[Basketball] helps me get off the ball with quick feet, have vision for the ball at all times and know my assignment,” Hayden said.”You don’t see him on the ground a lot,” McCray added. “When he does get toppled over a couple of times, he’ll just put his hand down like a running back and not lose his feet.”Perhaps in part of the shared bond of a leadership role, Hayden and Monty, hotel roommates, have become excellent friends.”Well, I see them together a lot, watching film,” McCray imparted. “Anytime you can have guys get along, it’s always good.”Film of the game variety is not the only type both enjoy. The two share a pre-game ritual of relaxing in their hotel room and preparing for the game by watching any of a variety of movies ranging from “Click” to “Superman Returns.””We watch a bunch of movies, just relax, talk and laugh. It’s a lot of fun,” Hayden said.