Lucas at Large: First-round dreams come true

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Although UW offensive tackle Gabe Carimi took a pass on attending the NFL draft in New York City - choosing instead to surround himself with family and friends at his parent's home in Cottage Grove - there were still two former Badgers represented in the green room at Radio City Music Hall.

One was Justin James Watt, the former walk-on from Central Michigan and the pride of Pewaukee, who was taken by the Houston Texans with the 11th pick in the first round.

You know him as J.J.

The other was Zois Panagiotopoulos, the former walk-on from UW-Whitewater and the pride of Brookfield, who was an All-Big Ten tackle and captain on the 1994 Rose Bowl team at Wisconsin.

You know him as Joe.

No ordinary Joe.

Thursday night, Joe Panos was in the green room with clients: USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith who went to the Cowboys at No. 9; and Baylor guard Danny Watkins who went to the Eagles at No. 23.

Panos is the director of football operations for the LMM Sports Management team; a West Coast agency that was founded by Eddie DeBartolo, the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers.

Ethan Lock is the "L'' and the CEO.

Eric Metz is one of the "M's'' and the president

Vance Malinovic is the other "M'' and a vice-president.

After embarking down this path as a sports agent, Panos said, "For years, people have told me that I'd be great at this. Moms and dads trust me. I'm outgoing. I can relate to kids. I'm passionate.''

Panos, who's a UW Athletic Hall of Famer, sounds a lot like Watt, who has put himself in a position to do what Erasmus James, Wendell Bryant and Darryl Sims were unable to do.

That is ...

Watt has a chance to live up to the hype and expectations and play 10 years in the NFL - unlike the three aforementioned UW defensive linemen who were also tabbed in the first round of the draft.

Watt's motor best resembles Tim Krumrie's motor, and Krumrie was an All-Pro with the Bengals. Krumrie was also an afterthought in the1983 draft; a 10th-round pick and the 276th selection overall.

(After coaching stints with the Bengals, the Bills and the Chiefs, the 50-year-old Krumrie is now on Jerry Glanville's staff with the Hartford Colonels of the United Football League.)

Watt will be joining two former Badgers on the Houston roster: tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. "They say nothing but great things about the Texans' fans,'' Watt said.

In this context, it didn't take Watt long to win over his new fan base. "It's a great day to be a Texan,'' he gushed on a conference call Thursday night with the Houston media.

Asked about lining up as a defensive tackle, he said, "That's fine by me. I'm more than happy to move inside in certain situations. I feel very comfortable playing anywhere along the defensive line.''

That preceded this punch line. "The goal is to sack Peyton Manning,'' said Watt, who will get two chances annually against the Indy quarterback. "That's what everyone around here is saying.''

In the next breath, he added, "That's my job.''

Expanding on that thought, Watt said, "That's definitely the goal of a defensive end - to sack quarterbacks. To me it doesn't matter what number of jersey they're wearing. I want to get them all.''

Carimi's job description obviously differs from Watt's in that he has been entrusted by the Chicago Bears, who took him at No. 29, to prevent pass rushers from sacking quarterback Jay Cutler.

Carimi has a chance to exceed the playing career of another former UW offensive lineman, Dennis Lick, who played six seasons in Chicago after being taken No. 8 overall in the 1976 draft.

Said NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock, "I think the kid (Carimi) is a plug-and-play right tackle. "Throw him in there and he's a starter on day one. And he's a starter for the next 10 years.''

Carimi was a natural fit for the Bears and offensive line coach Mike Tice, whose son, Nate, is a backup quarterback for the Badgers. Tice is the former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

"I had a great feeling I would end up with the Bears,'' Carimi said. "I can't be happier.''

If you're looking for an offensive lineman, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden figures that you can't go wrong tapping into Wisconsin.

"Let's face it,'' he said, "the Badgers maul you.''

1 Comment

The league is the proving ground for all players. Many factors determine success. I just want to speak up for Daryl Sims: his energetic and kind spirit make him a true MVP as the athletic director at UW Oshkosh. Making a successful transition from the game to life is a worthy barometer for judging someone's life work.

ON WISCONSIN