UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Three amigos return

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Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy arrived together Monday morning for the Legends of Wisconsin Classic golf outing at University Ridge.

That seemed only fitting since the three former UW offensive linemen also "arrived together'' as rookie starters in the National Football League last season.

But that's not where the symmetry ended. Carimi, Moffitt and Nagy each sustained season-ending injuries after earning spots in the starting lineup for their respective teams.

What are the odds of that happening?

"Probably has never happened before and won't happen again,' 'suggested Carimi, a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears. Carimi dislocated his kneecap in the second game.

"That was just crazy -- that's the game (of football), though,'' rationalized Nagy, a seventh-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys. Nagy broke his ankle in the fourth game.

"That's a freak thing, isn't it? Probably illuminati or something,'' jested Moffitt, a third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks. Moffitt tore his MCL and PCL, but not his ACL.

At least they had somebody to communicate and commiserate with during their rehabs.

Long distance bonding.

"I talked to those guys once a week,'' Nagy said. "They're some of my best friends.''

"We never really talked about the injuries,'' said Moffitt. "We just got updates.''

Since returning to Madison, "We've been hanging out the last couple of days, too,'' Carimi said.

Their friendship is strong enough to survive just about anything, Moffitt and Carimi ventured.

"We'll always talk,'' Nagy added. "We'll always stay in touch.''

Despite the injury setbacks, each is confident about their NFL future.

"I'm healthy now,'' pronounced Carimi after going through the OTAs and minicamp with the Bears. "It was rough having to sit on the sidelines. It made the season really long.''

But he noted all the rehabbing "has made the off-season really short.''

Carimi was cleared in May to resume full workouts.

"But you're always rehabbing,'' he acknowledged.

As a rookie on the injured list, you're always playing catch-up, too.

"There's a little bit of a detachment,'' Carimi said, "because you would have had a stronger bond with your teammates if you were playing with them the whole time.

"But I felt good about the way I played in the first two games (of the regular season before being injured). Did I answer all the questions? Not really. But it's good to have some success.

"I'm feeling comfortable playing right tackle; I'm feeling good about it.''

Some NFL pundits have contended that the success of Bears offensive line is dependent on Carimi's development and whether he anchors the group.

Does he feel such pressure, such expectations? "I can't say that's 100 percent true,'' he said. "An offensive line is a group of five guys. All of us need to play well.''

Going into the draft, Carimi was projected as a rookie starter. That comes with being the Outland Trophy winner. That was not the case with Nagy, who wasn't even a starter at Wisconsin.

Yet, he won a starting job with the Cowboys.

"It was a crazy process,'' Nagy reflected. "Because of the lockout, you just kind of showed up for training camp. Everything was going so fast you really didn't have time to think or be nervous.

"I think I probably did surprise some people. But I knew that I could do it. If you don't believe that, then you shouldn't be out there.''

Can his storyline serve as inspiration for other players who might have flown under the radar?

"I hope so, I really do,'' he said. "It just kind of shows that if you get an opportunity, it's in your hands. That's the big thing that I learned through the whole process. I just felt so prepared to compete.''

Nagy credited the UW football environment -- namely the rich tradition and history of Badger offensive linemen -- for facilitating a smooth transition to the NFL.

He's now working for a former UW offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, who was on Barry Alvarez' coaching staff in the early '90s and tutored the likes of Joe Panos, Cory Raymer and Joe Rudolph.

"Coach Callahan loved his time in Madison,'' Nagy said. "So we can relate.''

So can Moffitt, who's planning on training here until reporting to training camp.

"I love this place,'' he said."Our O-line tradition is the best in the country.''

The Legends of Wisconsin Classic dinner drew All-Americans like Paul Gruber and Joe Thomas.

Two current UW starters, Travis Frederick and Ryan Groy, took part in the golf outing.

"Groy is the most athletic offensive lineman I've seen here other than Joe Thomas,'' Moffitt said.

The Seahawks didn't draft Moffitt for his footwork as much as they wanted his toughness.

And he didn't disappoint, either.

"It's just crazy how much you can learn about football and how deep you can go into it,'' Moffitt said of his evolution. "You grow as a player; you become more mature as a student of the game.

"The thing is, everyone is so good across from you. Every week you're facing another great player that you have to gear up for; you have to learn him and how to play him.

"In college, there are some really good players. But there might be a few games in-between great players. You might play against Cameron Hayward from Ohio State one week.

"But you might not get another player like him for three or four games.

"In this league (NFL), you're playing against the best guys every week.''

Moffitt admitted that the injury rehab "was painful and it can wear on you mentally.''

But he's ready to prove himself all over again.

In this context, the three friends have arrived together at that same conclusion.

"I'm dying to get back to playing football,'' said Moffitt, speaking for Carimi and Nagy.
   

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