Lucas at Large: Taylor and Wagner let their play do the talking

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CHICAGO -- Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor knows that someone is "watching.'' But that doesn't mean he's losing sleep over showing up on the preseason watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award and the Lott IMPACT Trophy.

He's not tossing and turning, either, over his name somehow being left off the Butkus Award list, which is 51 deep and includes Badgers teammate Chris Borland.

"Some people made a big deal out of it, but I don't think it's a big deal at all; it has nothing to do with football at all,'' said Taylor, the pragmatic senior from Ashwaubenon, Wis., and the leading tackler in the Big Ten last season. "All I can control is what I do on the field and helping the team win.''

Only two players in college football had more tackles than Taylor in 2011: Boston College's Luke Kuechly, a first-round NFL draft pick of the Carolina Panthers, had 191; and Tulsa's Curnelius Arnick had 159. Taylor had 150, seven more than Borland. Moreover, Ohio State's Etienne Sabino started only five games last year, two in the Big Ten, and finished with 62 tackles, yet Sabino is on the 2012 Butkus list.

Go figure. Taylor isn't about to try.

Overall, the Badgers have eight different players on preseason watch lists, ranging from wide receiver Jared Abbrederis on the Biletnikoff Award list to tailback James White on the Doak Walker Award list. Center Travis Frederick is on three lists, while left tackle Ricky Wagner is on the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award lists.

Abbrederis and Wagner are both former walk-ons from Wisconsin high schools.

"It's an honor to be on some of those watch lists,'' said Wagner, a 6-foot-6, 322-pound senior from West Allis (Nathan Hale). "But I really can't be focusing on that during the year. If I start thinking like I have to win the Outland, I don't think I'll have a good year.''

You can understand why Wagner might think that way since his UW predecessors at left tackle -- Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi -- each won the Outland Trophy. "They're great resources to have, obviously,'' Wagner said. "You can go to the tape room at any time and watch these great players.''

Wagner wasn't limiting his "great players'' reference to just Thomas and Carimi -- citing the positive influences of Kevin Zeitler, Peter Konz, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy, among others.  A couple of years ago, when NFL players were locked out of training camp, Thomas did much of his training in Madison and left quite an impression on Wagner.  "It was great talking to a legend like Joe,'' he said.

It went beyond hero worship, though, because Wagner listened and learned from Thomas. "I really respect Joe's workmanlike mentality,'' he said. "You have to think about what you're doing as a job -- even in college -- and you've got to go to work every day, take care of business and go home.''

Carimi impacted Wagner in a different way. And it wasn't so much about the way he trained during the off-season as much as it was about the way he gained an edge on opponents on the playing field.  

"I like Gabe's physical aspect,'' Wagner said. "He had an attitude on the field; he got really mean. That was something I really respected about Gabe. And I've got to improve on that.''

Wagner is among the most soft-spoken players on the team. That's his demeanor. This is not to suggest that he never loses his temper; never shows a mean streak. But he is understated compared to more demonstrative teammates. "I've not been a very vocal guy; I lead more by example,'' he said.

The Badgers took three players to Big Ten Media Days and Wagner was one of them, joining Taylor and tailback Montee Ball. While conceding "it takes awhile for me to get comfortable'' speaking to outsiders, Wagner also said the Chicago exposure "was kind of a unique experience.''

Regarding shouldering more responsibilities as a team leader, Wagner said, "I try to work hard on the field and show the younger guys how to practice. I never take practice for granted because that's where games are won.

"If something needs to be said, I'll step up and say something.''

That has been Taylor's approach. "I want to be a leader and I see myself as a leader,'' Taylor said. "Just because maybe I don't talk as much as I should -- or talk as much as people think I should -- it doesn't mean that I don't lead by example. When I do say something, it comes from the heart.''

Taylor would rather talk with his pads, an old school cliché that's still true today.

"I've played sports my whole life and I was never really a big talker,'' said Taylor. "But my teammates would see the way I conducted myself and they would follow. You don't have to talk to get other people motivated. You can be a leader by just doing things the right way.''

Apparently that's not good enough for the Butkus watch list. Nine players from the Big Ten made the cut, but Taylor, the league's defensive player of the week three times last season, is snubbed.

Guess he will just have to play his way on to the list, which would be his preference anyway.

ON WISCONSIN