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Bielema talks spring practice, addition of Danny O'Brien



Head coach Bret Bielema met with members of the media Thursday, prior to the Badgers' final practice session before spring break.

Bielema discussed his impressions from the first week of spring practice, as well as the addition of Maryland transfer QB Danny O'Brien.

The Badgers practice in full pads for the first time this spring on Thursday before breaking camp for spring break. They return to the field April 10, with an additional 10 practices leading into the Wisconsin Football Spring Game on April 28.

***Buy tickets to the Wisconsin Football Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***

The All-Bielema Team revealed

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If you could build a team using the players that have suited up for the Badgers during Bret Bielema's six years at the helm of the Wisconsin program, who would you choose?

That was the question we posed during three weeks of voting by fans on the official Wisconsin Football Facebook page. The result is a list of the best to line up at each position during the Bielema era, as chosen by the fans -- the All-Bielema Team.

In the last five NFL drafts, a total of 16 UW players have been selected. That number will grow in a big way this year, with a school-record eight players invited to the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine -- the second most of any school in the nation.

Over the past six seasons, the Badgers have had finalists for the Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker Award, John Mackey Award, Rimington Trophy, Ted Hendricks Award, Manning Award and Lou Groza Award. In addition, Scott Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, J.J. Watt won the Lott IMPACT trophy, and Gabe Carimi and Joe Thomas both won the Outland Trophy.

Leads to some tough choices, huh?

Tough enough, in fact, that a number of players who have gone on to play in the NFL didn't even sniff inclusion on the All-Bielema Team.

Garrett Graham was a distant third in the voting at tight end, while other pros -- like FB Chris Pressley, LT Carimi, RG Kraig Urbik and QB Scott Tolzien -- didn't make the cut, either.

With that in mind, here's the All-Bielema Team, which was originally released in the March 15 issue of Varsity magazine:

OFFENSE


FB_111114_Wilson_Russell.jpgQuarterback
* Russell Wilson (2011)

Running Back
* Montee Ball (2009-11)

Fullback
* Bradie Ewing (2008-11)

Tight End
* Travis Beckum (2006-08)

Wide Reciever
* Nick Toon (2008-11)
* Jared Abbrederis (2010-11)

Left Tackle
* Joe Thomas (2006)

Left Guard
* John Moffitt (2007-10)

Center
* Peter Konz (2009-11)

Right Guard

* Kevin Zeitler (2009-11)

Right Tackle
* Josh Oglesby (2008-11)


DEFENSE

FB_120329_Watt_JJ.jpgDefensive End
* J.J. Watt (2009-10)

Defensive Tackle
* Nick Hayden (2006-07)

Defensive Tackle
* Patrick Butrym (2008-11)

Defensive End
* O'Brien Schofield (2007-09)

Outside Linebacker
* Mike Taylor (2009-11)

Middle Linebacker
* Chris Borland (2009, 2011)

Outside Linebacker
* Jonathan Casillas (2006-08)

Corner Back
* Jack Ikegwuonu (2006-07)
* Antonio Fenelus (2008-11)

Strong Safety
* Jay Valai (2007-10)

Free Safety
* Aaron Henry (2007, 2009-11)


SPECIAL TEAMS


Kicker
* Taylor Mehlhaff (2006-07)

Punter
* Brad Nortman (2008-11)

Returns
* David Gilreath (2007-10)


Women's track vaults into national rankings

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A big weekend for the Wisconsin women's track and field team has translated into a big jump in the rankings.

The Badgers moved all the way to No. 16 in this week's edition of the national rankings compiled by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, which were released Tuesday.

UW leapt 13 spots from its No. 29 ranking last week largely on the strength of junior Taylor Smith's school-record effort in the weight throw. Smith, named Big Ten co-Field Athlete of the Week on Monday, launched a throw of 69 feet, 10 3/4 inches to win the event at Saturday's UW-Platteville Invitational.

The mark vaulted Smith to No. 5 nationally in the event and automatically secured her a spot in next month's NCAA indoor championships.

Because the USTFCCCA's rankings are based solely on athletes' national rankings, Smith's toss buoyed the Badgers.

Also supporting Wisconsin's rank is senior Monika Jakutyte, who ranks in a tie for fourth place nationally in the high jump with the clearance of 6 feet she recorded on Feb. 3.

In addition, senior and three-time All-American Dorcas Akinniyi is currently ranked No. 8 in the pentathlon after scoring 3,991 points on Feb. 3.

The Badgers' other top-25 ranked athletes include the trio of Smith (18th, 53-7 3/4), freshman Kelsey Card (17th, 53-6 1/2) and sophomore Jasmine Boyer (T-26th, 52-2 3/4) in the shot put.

Additionally, senior Caitlin Comfort is ranked 18th in the 5000 meters (16:07.90), while junior Jessica Flax stacks up No. 25 in the pentathlon (3,789 points).

Men slip out of rankings
On the men's side, the Badgers slipped out of the rankings after moving up to No. 17 last week. That's despite the effort of sophomore Dan Block, who threw 61-7 1/2 in the shot put to move up to the No. 10 spot nationally over the weekend.

Sophomore Japheth Cato, who is No. 3 in the heptathlon with his Big Ten-record total of 5,939 points, is UW's other top-10 ranked athlete.

The Badgers also picked up top-25 performances from sophomore Alex Hatz in the mile (13th, 3:58.68) and junior Maverick Darling in the 3000 meters (22nd, 7:54.70) over the weekend.

Canada, Azzanni meet the press in Madison

For the first time since their hires were announced this week, new Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni met with members of the local media on Wednesday.

Video of each coach's media session, including comments from head coach Bret Bielema, can be found below. Also, be sure to check out profiles on both Canada and Azzanni in the this week's issue of Varsity Magazine.

Head coach Bret Bielema:



Offensive coordinator Matt Canada:



Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni:


The Voice: Don't start looking for the lifeboats just yet

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The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgBack in October, I wrote about what a great time it was to be a sports fan in Wisconsin. The Brewers were rolling into the playoffs. After pounding Nebraska in the much-anticipated Big Ten opener, the unbeaten Badger football team was enjoying a bye week. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers and company, were putting on a show each week.

Hopefully, that show in Green Bay will continue for a few more weeks.

However, given the fragile nature of sports, we witnessed the Brewers' season end to rival and eventual World Series champion St. Louis. Later, we learned that Ryan Braun might be in line for a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test. Brewers fans nervously await the final word from MLB officials.

As for the Badger football team, a thrilling victory in the first-ever conference title game was followed by a heart-breaking Rose Bowl loss to Oregon.

To be sure, there is no shame in losing to the Ducks. It was a wildly entertaining game featuring two prolific offenses, but Wisconsin fell just short.

In the days following the Rose Bowl, Bret Bielema finds himself needing to replace five assistants. Paul Chryst, Bob Bostad, Dave Huxtable and Joe Rudolph are moving to Pittsburgh, while DelVaughn Alexander will join the Arizona State staff.

While assistants will move on, this is an unusually large hit. In some corners of Badger Nation, there exists a state of panic. Badgers fans nervously await word from Bielema regarding the new hires.

At the risk of sounding like the uptight guy in the movie "Animal House" who, during the parade scene, desperately shrieks "All is well. All is well!" let me suggest that it is too early to press the panic button. Perhaps it makes sense to sit back and allow Bielema the chance to reassemble his staff. In six years as the head coach, he has demonstrated the ability to follow a living legend, and his program has bounced back quite well after the 7-6 season of 2008.  

Just consider it another example of the head coach's favorite saying, "It's not what happens, it is how you respond."

We move onto basketball, where Bo Ryan's team is going through an awful shooting slump that has resulted in three straight losses, two coming on the home court. This is the same Badger squad that thumped 12th-ranked UNLV, a team that has not lost since. It also is the same Badger group that took North Carolina to the final minute.

It is fair to be concerned, but I would think it is a bit early to jump off the ship.

On Thursday night, the Badgers have another tough road test at Purdue, followed by a home game with Nebraska on Sunday afternoon.

Yes, Sunday afternoon, while the Packers are playing the New York Giants. Tough timing for a Wisconsin basketball game, but the NFL has other scheduling matters to worry about.  

It makes me wonder what kind of atmosphere there will be at the Kohl Center. It is no secret that the reputation is slipping.

When it comes to noise level, a writer from Las Vegas compared it to a library.

Look, I have little if any right to tell folks who pay very good money to support the Badgers to get off their butts and cheer louder. So please allow me to suggest that the team might need a little more help these days.  

If nothing else, the past week-and-a-half should remind everyone that winning is not a given.  

Yes, the Badgers can do their part to create more excitement, specifically by making more shots.

But let's be real -- it is easy to get behind a team when it is smooth sailing. Now that the waters are a tad choppy, it will be interesting to see how everyone responds, players and fans alike.

'Great Times' for the Badger Band and Badger fans in L.A.


It took nearly a year (and a second-consecutive Rose Bowl appearance for the Wisconsin football team) but the wait was certainly worth it for the UW Marching Band -- and the fans that crowded the street outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 1.

Michael Jurkovac, a UW alumnus who is the founder and CEO of New York-based production company cYclops, originally reached out to the Badger Band and spirit squad over a year ago, when the Badgers were poised to make the first of back-to-back trips to Pasadena.

His connections resulted in a New Year's Eve show for the band and spirit squad at L.A. Live, the multi-billion dollar entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles.

This time around, Jurkovac collaborated with spirit squad director Josette Scheer and assistant band director Dr. Justin Stolarik to pull off something even bigger.

Jurkovac developed a soft spot for the UW Marching Band when taking a class by Dr. Michael Leckrone during his time in Madison and again reached out to the group when the Badgers won the Big Ten championship game to secure a second-straight appearance in the Rose Bowl.

Among Jurkovac's clients is will.i.am, one of the voices of the Grammy award-winning group The Black Eyed Peas, who happened to be interested in having the UW band perform a version of his yet-to-be-released single "Great Times."

With the artist's blessing, Leckrone got to work on a special arrangement of the track, which the band spent nearly three weeks practicing before arriving in L.A.

That's when the surprise came. 

As the band went through a final rehearsal for its latest L.A. Live performance, will.i.am dropped in to pay an unexpected visit to the parking lot adjacent to the J.W. Marriott hotel.

The even bigger surprise came when he took the stage just outside the Staples Center to provide matching vocals to the band's performance of "Great Times" -- something he had not planned to do originally.

It doesn't stop there for the band, however, as will.i.am plans to make use of a recording of the band's take on "Great Times" when the single is released in the coming months.

If one surprise wasn't enough, Jurkovac also helped line up another star for the Badgers' show at L.A. Live. He enlisted Everlast, who fronted House of Pain when the group recorded "Jump Around" in 1992, to perform his signature hit -- and a Camp Randall favorite -- with the band.

Check out video of the L.A. Live performance (above), as well as will.i.am's visit to the band's rehersal (below).

Badgers finish 10th in AP, 11th in coaches poll

The Wisconsin football team finished the season ranked No. 10 in final edition of the Associated Press Top 25 released Tuesday, giving the Badgers a top-10 finish for the second-consecutive season.

UW also earned a No. 11 ranking in the final USA Today Coaches Poll.

Alabama finished the season No. 1 in both the media and coaches' polls after defeating LSU in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Monday.

The Big Ten champion, Wisconsin (11-3 overall) finished as the highest-ranked team from the conference in the final AP poll, just ahead of No. 11 Michigan State (11-3) and No. 12 Michigan (11-2).

In the coaches' poll, the Badgers trailed the No. 9-ranked Wolverines and the No. 10 Spartans.

Nebraska, ranked 24th in both polls, was the remaining Big Ten team to find a place in the final rankings.

After scoring a 45-38 win over the Badgers in the Rose Bowl last week, Oregon finished the season ranked No. 4 in both polls.

The Badgers have finished the year ranked in the final AP poll in seven of the last eight seasons, including three top-10 finishes under sixth-year head coach Bret Bielema.

Wisconsin was seventh in the final AP poll of 2010 following a loss to No. 2 TCU in the Rose Bowl and finished 16th in 2009 after a win over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl.

The Badgers were eighth in the final USA Today Coaches Poll of 2010 and ranked No. 16 in the finals coaches' rankings in 2009.

Wisconsin in the final
Associated Press Top 25
2011: 10th
2010: 7th
2009: 16th
2008: NR
2007: 24th
2006: 7th
2005: 15th
2004: 17th

Wish Upon a Badger: A special day with one of UW's biggest fans



It's a very common sight at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison to see large men decked out in red roaming the halls and paying visits to children who are there seeking treatment for various conditions.

It may be the time of year for Santa Claus to visit the hospital, but the men in red I'm talking about spend most of their time visiting patients during the football season. Each week, a number of players from the Wisconsin football team choose to give some of their time to some of their smallest -- but most passionate -- fans.

However, when one of those fans can leave the hospital to pay the Badgers a visit, it's even more special. That was the case earlier this season with Nelson Happel, a 7-year-old from Madison whose appearance at Camp Randall Stadium was a great sign of success in his battle against Nueroblastoma, a cancer of the brain.

Sandwiched between what doctors believed to be a successful surgery and the last of many week-long stays at American Family Children's Hospital, Nelson paid a visit to a Badgers practice.

Photos: Wish Upon a Badger - Nelson Happel

Nelson was already familiar with a number of Badgers from encounters during their visits to the hospital, including his favorite player, sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.

After meeting head coach Bret Bielema and taking behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium and the team's facilities -- where he was reunited with another familiar Badger, senior punter Brad Nortman -- Nelson was introduced to the team and received a special gift from Abbrederis himself.

After getting to know the Badgers, Nelson and his father, Gary, had the opportunity to watch the team's win over South Dakota that Saturday from a suite at Camp Randall. Since then, things have continued to look up for the aspiring football player.

Just last week, Nelson's doctors declared him to be cancer free.

Now the young lefty can focus on working toward his dream of playing quarterback for the Badgers.

Speaking as someone who did his best wide receiver impression for Nelson that day at practice, If his arm strength at age 7 is any indication, I like his chances.

Reflecting on 2011: 'Hello, Russell Wilson!'

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The hype started in earnest on June 27 when Russell Wilson announced that he was transferring from NC State to Wisconsin. A three-time All-ACC performer, Wilson was seen as the missing piece to the Badgers' championship puzzle.
 
It didn't take long for those who watched UW's practices in August to realize that Wilson was the real deal. However, doing it with a green non-contact jersey on in an empty stadium is a far cry from delivering in front of a sold-out crowd at Camp Randall Stadium.
 
And his debut wasn't just another game, it was a Thursday night, prime time affair to kick off the college football season on ESPN.

If he had any pre-game jitters, it certainly didn't seem that way as Wilson led the Badgers 65 yards in just over three minutes on their opening possession and capped it with 4-yard TD pass to Montee Ball. But it wasn't until late in the second quarter that Wilson truly put his stamp on Wisconsin.
 
UW got the ball on its own 44-yard line with 1:37 left in the half looking to add to a 27-3 lead. After a 10-yard pass and an incompletion set up second-and-10 at the UNLV 46, Wilson dropped back to pass but couldn't find anyone open.

He took off up the middle and cut to his right to avoid a defender at about the line of scrimmage. He got a great block from Nick Toon at about the 25-yard line, cut to the sideline and used his speed to burst towards the end zone. Jared Abbrederis was locked up with a UNLV defender at the goal line and Wilson tiptoed the sideline into the end zone.
 
As the "Voice of the Badgers" Matt Lepay said, "Hello, Russell Wilson!" It was a great introduction to a player who would go on to re-write the UW record book.

Game Recap: For starters: Badgers run off Rebels in rout, 51-17

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AP awards highlight Badgers' All-America additions

FB_111215_Ball_Montee.jpgWith awards season ongoing in college football, All-America teams continue to be released by media outlets and other groups. It's no surprise to see junior RB Montee Ball's name headlining several of those lists.

Ball added to his list of All-America awards with first-team nods from SI.com, Pro Football Weekly and Phil Steele. Carrying the most weight, however, was Ball's spot on the Associated Press All-America first team, an honor he shared with senior RG Kevin Zeitler.

Ball has been named a first-team All-American on nine major lists and was a second-team selection to the Walter Camp All-America Team, which includes just one running back each on its first and second teams.

Zeitler added a first-team selection by Pro Football Weekly this week, matching his selection by both the AP and the American Football Coaches Association. He also was named this week to Phil Steele's second team and was an honorable mention by SI.com.

Also earning first-team All-America nods was junior C Peter Konz, who was tabbed by both SI.com and Pro Football Weekly. He also was named to the AP second team and was a third-team pick by Phil Steele.

Senior QB Russell Wilson also earned a third-team nod from Phil Steele to go along with an honorable mention by SI.com.

The same went for sophomore LB Chris Borland and sophomore WR Jared Abbrederis -- who was recognized as a punt returner -- as both earned honorable mention from SI.com.

Wisconsin's 2011 All-Americans

Jared Abbrederis, So., WR/PR
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Montee Ball, Jr., RB
- First team, Associated Press
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, Football Writers Association of America
- First team, CBSSports.com
- First team, ESPN.com
- First team, SI.com
- First team, Yahoo! Sports
- First team, Pro Football Weekly
- First team, Phil Steele
- Second team, Walter Camp Foundation

Chris Borland, So., LB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Peter Konz, Jr., C
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, CBSSports.com
- First team, SI.com
- First team, Pro Football Weekly
- Second team, Associated Press
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports
- Third team, Phil Steele

Russell Wilson, Sr., QB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports
- Third team, Phil Steele
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Kevin Zeitler, Sr., RG
- First team, Associated Press
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, Pro Football Weekly
- Second team, Walter Camp Foundation
- Second team, CBSSports.com
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports
- Second team, Phil Steele
- Honorable mention, SI.com
ON WISCONSIN