Lucas at Large: Bielema preparing to send off special class

Unlike his previous four seasons, UW head coach Bret Bielema will take a more active role in Saturday's pregame recognition of the senior class at Camp Randall Stadium.

"Usually, I've stayed out of the ceremony," he said. "But I'm going to greet each of the seniors as they come on the field and before they get introduced.

"Being able to shake their hand before sending them on to the next phase is going to be special. They all have unique stories and there have been some trials and tribulations. But they're all survivors.

"I remember the first time I met them. I remember the first time I was in their homes. I remember the first time they got their starting opportunity. I remember the hardship and heartache."

More than anything, he will likely remember their commitment and perseverance. "I didn't know if some of them would grow as much as they did off the field," Bielema said.

In Bielema's transition from defensive coordinator to head coach, succeeding Barry Alvarez, he had not even completed his coaching staff when he signed his first recruiting class in 2006.

Those fifth-year seniors who will be honored Saturday include Isaac Anderson, Niles Brinkley, Gabe Carimi, Lance Kendricks, John Moffitt, Bill Nagy, Culmer St. Jean, Scott Tolzien and Jay Valai.

"I could rattle off five or six things about each of them," Bielema said.

His second recruiting class was short in numbers (16) but tall on talent, especially from within the state of Wisconsin: John Clay, Nick Toon, Josh Oglesby, Patrick Butrym, and Louis Nzegwu.

 All were redshirted and have one more year of eligibility.

David Gilreath, Blake Sorensen and Kyle Jefferson each played and contributed as true freshmen in 2007 and they will be walking down the North end zone ramp for the final time Saturday.

"It's been very rewarding," Bielema said of the recruiting process which brought each one of these seniors to Wisconsin. Especially since they are in a position to win a Big Ten championship.

"I want this to be one of the best memories they've had," he said of Saturday's curtain call in Camp Randall. He was talking about the players and fans who should embrace the 2:30 p.m. kickoff.

This week's preparation for Northwestern will have one notable twist: Thanksgiving. The Badgers will celebrate the holiday together Thursday at a local "All you can eat" restaurant.

"That's big with the big boys," Bielema said, chuckling.

Considerable game week planning has taken place.

"It's a little bit out of the norm," Bielema said. "We don't have the same routine. We've talked about it as a staff and visited with our seniors on how to approach everything.

"I'd love to be able to send our players home to their parents for Thanksgiving. But it's unrealistic for us to have guys going all over the state or all over the country just for one night.

"Especially with such a big game looming on Saturday. For the last couple of weeks, I've told this group of players that when they focus they can accomplish special things, and they've done that."
ON WISCONSIN