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Before the Seattle Seahawks selected Wisconsin's Russell Wilson in the third round of the National Football League draft Friday night, the debate -- on whether a quarterback under 6 feet tall can be successful at the pro level -- raged between Mel Kiper and Jon Gruden on the ESPN set.
This was not the first time that Kiper, the network's draft analyst since 1984, and Gruden, the former NFL head coach, had engaged each other on the topic. But what made it unique during Friday's telecast was the fact that Wilson had given ESPN access to his viewing party in Washington, D.C.
So while Kiper and Gruden were trading verbal punches -- ESPN's Chris Berman and Todd McShay also joined the fray --Wilson was shown on camera from time to time with wife Ashton, younger sister Anna, older brother Harry, mother Tammy and some family friends.
Before the Seahawks even went on the clock in the second round with the 75th selection overall, Kiper advanced his "If only he were just a little taller'' platform. Making one concession on Wilson's listed height -- "We'll push him to 5-11'' -- he still conceded, "I know Jon you get aggravated (with me).''
Kiper then qualified Wilson as a "test case'' for all quarterbacks under 6 feet tall -- or in that 5-11 range -- that will follow him into the NFL over the next 10 years. "If he can't make it,'' said Kiper, allowing that Wilson would get a chance to be a starter, "nobody can at that particular height.''
Berman jumped in and noted that Wilson took the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.
"He has a lot of 'it', though, doesn't he Jon?'' Berman posed to Gruden.
Gruden began morphing into Chucky, his alter-ego, and challenged Kiper.
"What do you want him to do?'' pleaded Gruden. "He's done it in two different offenses (at North Carolina State and Wisconsin). You probably downgraded Ray Lewis (6-1), didn't you? And Wes Welker (5-9). You probably downgraded (Darren) Sproles (5-6) and Maurice Jones-Drew (5-7).
"You discriminate against guys who aren't 6-feet tall -- guys like me.
"Russell Wilson is going to go (in the draft) and he's going to go real quick,'' Gruden predicted, "and he's going to be one of those guys who defies the odds because the difference between Drew Brees and Michael Vick and Russell Wilson, size-wise, is that much ...''
Holding up his right hand, there was an inch separation between his index finger and thumb.
"That's what you're talking about Mel,'' he said of the size differential between the 5-11 Wilson and Brees and Vick, both of whom are listed at 6-foot. "You're starting to aggravate me again.''
Countered Kiper, "Jon, 28 of the 32 starting quarterbacks (in the NFL) are 6-2 or taller.''
Nobody under 6 feet is starting in the league right now, he added.
Enter McShay who has taken on the co-draft guru role with Kiper for ESPN.
"I do think his accuracy dips a little bit when he's in the pocket compared to when he's rolling out,'' he said of Wilson. "But I never scouted a quarterback who's under 6 feet tall who can see the field and do the things that he can do.''
McShay admitted that he had Wilson projected for the sixth or seventh round when he began watching him. "I didn't give him a chance,'' he said. "(But) I kept watching him and watching him and I got to know him a little bit and I got to talk to people around him.
"This guy has everything you look for in the quarterback position. To me, he is the test case; he shows that somebody his size can get it done. I truly believe at some point in time we're going to be talking about Russell Wilson as a starter in the NFL.''
Kiper then felt obligated to defend himself.
"I'm not picking on Russell Wilson; I'm a fan of Russell Wilson,'' he emphasized. "On a scale of 1 to 10 -- character-wise -- he's a 15. Jon, I said it yesterday, if he was 6-2, he'd be a top-10 pick.''
Berman name-dropped Doug Flutie into the discussion.
McShay said, "It's going to take him being Drew Brees. He's going to have to do every single thing that Drew Brees does; all the little things (because) there are limitations.''
Throughout this heated exchange between analysts, the camera was on Wilson.
"I think he wants to jump through the TV and strangle you right now,'' McShay said to Kiper.
Wilson, who had a whimsical look on his face, picked up the TV remote.
"He just muted you, Mel,'' McShay bellowed.
Kiper then presented his summation to the jury.
"If he's good enough to make it, he will open up the door (to other QBs under 6 feet),'' Kiper said. "I think we'd all agree on one thing, he will have to beat the odds.''
Berman interjected that "the odds are beatable'' before Gruden responded with his closing argument.
"This kid can play,'' he said. "He's going to prove it to you (pointing at Kiper). He's going to prove it to you (pointing at McShay). He's going to prove it to everybody. You just wait and see.''
ESPN finally got around to interviewing Wilson.
"It was a remarkable experience,'' he said of the phone call that he received from Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, who formerly worked for the Green Bay Packers.
"It was an unbelievable moment for me. I've been waiting for this my whole entire life. The Lord is so good -- to have my family here with me -- I know my dad is watching (Russell Wilson's father, Harrison, passed away in June of 2010).''
Former UW quarterback Darrell Bevell, who led the Badgers to a Big Ten title in 1993 and the Rose Bowl, is the offensive coordinator in Seattle. Based on his conversations, Wilson said that he knew that the Seahawks were serious about him.
"I knew it would be a great place for me to play,'' he said.
Although the Seahawks signed free agent Matt Flynn (the former Packer) and still have Tarvaris Jackson on their roster, Gruden was of the opinion that it was a good fit for Wilson because Seattle runs a West Coast offense similar to what Wilson operated during his four years at NC State.
"Coach Gruden, as you know, it's a great offense to be in,'' said Wilson, who appeared on ESPN's Gruden's QB Camp series. "But I want to know it all. Like we talked about being on a quest for knowledge; I'm definitely going to be on that quest and I can't wait to learn.
"I have to get there (Seattle) and learn the playbook as quick as possible and just dive into it and try to be a great teammate and a great lockeroom guy, and just work my butt off.''
Reflecting on his Badger experience, Wilson said, "I went to an unbelievable place in the University of Wisconsin and had a tremendous coach in Bret Bielema and had a great offensive coordinator in Paul Chryst ...
"I got there (Madison) July 1; pretty much everyone was away on Fourth of July weekend. I called a player's only meeting on July 7 and brought all the guys together. I told them about my life. I told them about my situation from going to NC State and why I wanted to go to Wisconsin.''
Wilson also told his new UW teammates "how I was there to compete and how I was there to win and I think the guys really fed off of that and really understood that I was there to do everything I could to be the best player that I could be ...''
Kiper eventually got around to addressing the question du jour to Wilson, "What do you say to doubters and skeptics who say anyone under 6 feet can't be a starter in the NFL?''
"The main thing,'' Wilson replied, "is this has been my perspective my whole life. My height doesn't define my skill set. I know I'm 5-11, but I can play tall in the pocket. I can make accurate throws. I can deliver the ball on time. I can be great on third down and be great in the red zone.
"One thing I can control is my work ethic. I can also control my knowledge of the game -- how I study and how I get into the film room and how I just try to learn as much as I possibly can to give me that much more of an advantage .. I'm so fired up to be a Seattle Seahawk. I can't wait to play.''
McShay spoke for many, maybe even Kiper, when he concluded, "He wins you over.''
Wisconsin right guard Kevin Zeitler made a point of shaking everybody's hand after his April 4 workout at the McClain Facility. More than a dozen NFL teams were represented, including the Cincinnati Bengals, who sent their veteran offensive line coach, Paul Alexander, to evaluate Zeitler.
The 52-year-old Alexander, who also carries the title of assistant head coach (to Marvin Lewis), has been with the Bengals for nearly two decades. Alexander is no stranger to the Big Ten brand of hard-nosed football. He served as a grad assistant under Bo Schembechler and Joe Paterno.
You can understand why he would like what he saw out of Zeitler, a throwback, who doesn't have any frills to his old-school game or his blue-collar personality. That was the statement that Zeitler was trying to make when he personally thanked each of the coaches who had traveled to Madison.
"I was always told that you want to make a good impression with your handshake,'' said Zeitler, explaining his vice-like grip that had strangers counting their fingers when they were eventually able to pull away from him. "But I'm not trying to break anybody's hand.''
At least that was not his intent. "I try to have a nice firm handshake -- hoping that I will impress people -- hoping that they will remember me,'' said Zeitler, adding that he wants to send out this message, "I'm here to play or something like that.''
When asked if he felt like there were any questions that he still had to answer for all of these NFL teams that were working him out, he paused to collect his thoughts and then said, "Can I be a first rounder, I guess? That would be the question. So I'm trying to prove that I'm a high pick.''
Zeitler admitted that he had no idea where he might land in the draft. He wasn't even sure who really liked him. "Sometimes it's the people who don't talk to you who draft you,'' he said. "It's going to be a nice surprise for me whenever I do get taken. I'll be happy no matter where it is.''
Zeitler is very happy today after being a first round draft pick (No. 27 overall) of the Cincinnati Bengals. Before the selection was announced, Jon Gruden took the ESPN audience inside Cincinnati's war room; suggesting the coaching staff was deciding between Zeitler and Georgia's Cordy Glenn.
The Bengals had to address a pressing need at offensive guard, Gruden said.
Someone, after all, has to block the likes of Baltimore's nose masher Haloti Ngata, he added.
That someone turned out to be Zeitler.
After ESPN host Chris Berman complimented Gruden for foreshadowing the selection, Gruden countered, "I don't know anything about the draft process. I do know that Kevin Zeitler is another Wisconsin Badger that can come off the ball and do some things athletically.
"He can play in a zone scheme. He's an athletic puller. He can find his target. He can redirect. At the end of the day, he can thump you. I think the Bengals knew that the Ravens were looking at Zeitler later in this round (at No. 29) to replace Ben Grubbs (a free agent).
"We already talked about the lack of guards on the Bengals football team,'' Gruden went on. "(Quarterback) Andy Dalton needs firm protection, so he can step up in the pocket. Zeitler is a good athlete. He's not an elite athlete. But he's an every down wrecking machine that works to finish.''
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper noted that the Chicago Bears drafted a "mauler'' in former UW offensive tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round of the 2011 draft. "That's what Kevin Zeitler is -- a true mauler,'' said Kiper. "He's powerful in the upper body and he will battle ...''
Scratch and claw were the words that Kiper used to describe Zeitler's competitiveness.
"He gets the most out of his talent,'' he continued. "He's not real athletic. But I'll tell you what, he played at a very high level and there were a lot of teams late in the first round that wanted him to be a part of their offensive line.''
Zeitler was one of two first round picks for the Bengals; the other was Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis said, "Both players have opportunities to start and work their way into the lineup. We drafted both of them to play.''
This is only the second time in franchise history that the Bengals have drafted an offensive guard in the first round. In 1984, they took North Carolina's Brian Blados with the 28th selection overall. Cincinnati does have some history with hard-nosed Badgers, though, most notably Tim Krumrie.
In addition to Krumrie, who spent many memorable seasons as a nose guard and defensive line coach in Cincinnati, the current Bengals staff features Jay Hayes, a former UW assistant under Barry Alvarez, whose son, Jesse, is a freshman defensive end with the Badgers.
Zeitler should feel right at home, too, in the company of a couple of his new Cincinnati teammates: defensive tackle Nick Hayden and fullback Chris Pressley. Both are former Badgers. In the end, Zeitler obviously made a lasting impression on his new position coach, Alexander.
"When we went to work him out in Wisconsin,'' Alexander recalled, "we called him and he came down and met us at the car ... he's a wonderful guy. He's as good as guy as there is, and he's a good player. I think when you get a chance to take a guy like that; he helps your whole team, not just his spot.
"He's a great program guy, team guy. He's the type of guy if you went fishing at the lake all day, some guys after an hour; you want to throw them in the water. But this guy is more along the line that you can just sit out there all day with him.
"He's going to work like that in terms of football.''
- Buckinghams Winners
| Watch the Show
Wisconsin men's cross country coach Mick Byrne generously described his musical tastes with the confession that "I'm all over the place.''
Byrne has downloaded everything from Real Estate to Bon Iver, from The Cure to Coldplay, from Bruce Springsteen to Eric Hutchinson, from Adele to Mumford & Sons.
Byrne is likely to add to his list after hearing "The Big Shady Trees'' (pictured above)
perform Monday night during the fourth annual Buckinghams at the Overture Center.
Elliot Krause was on drums, Zach Mellon was on guitar and Will Ottow was the vocalist for a cover version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy.''
What was the genesis for the group's name, The Big Shady Trees?
"We're all tall and slim,'' Krause reasoned.
Krause, Mellon and Ottow all run for Byrne and the Badgers. How crazy is that?
"We do have a lot of musical talent on the team,'' Byrne volunteered. "When we go on trips, the guys will sometimes bring guitars and they're singing all the time. It's hilarious.''
Funny thing is, they know when it's time to get down to work -- on the track and in the classroom.
Last November, the Badgers won a national championship in men's cross country, the fifth in school history and first since 2005.
Monday night at the Buckinghams, the highest cumulative GPA team awards went to men's and women's cross country.
"We sit down before the season and as a team determine what goals we would like to set,'' said Caitlin Comfort, a senior from Peoria. "Highest GPA is one of them, and we take a lot of pride in it.''
Elliot Krause, a senior from Appleton, pointed out that athletes are frequently stereotyped -- stigmas are unfairly but routinely attached -- and this type of academic recognition helps dispel myths.
It definitely starts, too, at the top with Byrne.
"Mick's general philosophy is that the whole college experience isn't just about running,'' said Krause, a two-time Academic All-American. "But he doesn't baby us through the process.
"You have to take the initiative and do things yourself.''
Byrne's approach promotes the development of study habits and discipline, Krause said. "He's developing you as a person so when you leave college you can be successful,'' he added.
In February, Byrne's Badgers were cited as the Scholar Team of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
"When I came here four years ago,'' Byrne said, "one of the challenges that I threw out to the guys was, 'Look, we have to work harder in the classroom.'
"I felt like they weren't putting their best foot forward and I chose to keep on their case about it. We encouraged them and we kicked them in the butt when they needed to be kicked in the butt.
"The end result has been that they've gotten a little bit better every semester.''
The Badgers finished the cross country season with a team grade-point average of 3.08.
"It's not acceptable for them to be below 3.00,'' Byrne said. "That's the least we can ask from them. It's a high standard (academically), but our athletes compete at a high standard.
"If they can do that on the track -- or in cross country -- why can't they do that in the classroom? It certainly starts with me and what my expectations are. But it also comes from the older kids.''
Krause acknowledged the necessity for that kind of accountability and leadership.
"The younger guys, especially the freshmen are always looking up to the older guys,'' he said, "and when they see them taking care of business, on and off the track, that sets a good example.
"It's like, 'These guys are getting it done in the classroom. That's what is expected of me.'''
Comfort was one of the Performance Award winners Monday night. These student-athletes are nominated by their advisors or learning specialists for their academic work and improvement.
"When you come in as a freshman everything is totally new to you,'' Comfort said. "So it's really about getting your feet on the ground and realizing what you're here for.
"Ultimately, you're here to get a degree and obviously athletics comes after that. But it's also about making sacrifices; staying in on the weekends to get homework done.
"It's about coming back to your dorm or your apartment right after practice is over and working on homework. It's about waking up an hour or two early to study some more before a test.
"It's about time management and balancing (academics and athletics).''
But you have to know what your priorities are, she emphasized.
"You'll hear everyone say, 'It's all about balancing your time' and there's a reason everyone says it, and that's because it really is the most important thing,'' Krause said.
"But you also have to give yourself a little bit of time to breath and relax every once in awhile. Mick has this thing about overcooked turkey and how it doesn't taste very good.''
That would be a Byrne metaphor on life whereby he's suggesting that the student-athlete can fall prey to the stress or pressure of expectations within the classroom and on the playing field or track.
"Eventually you're going to overcook yourself,'' Krause said.
In this context, the Buckinghams are a breath of fresh air since they represent a celebration of academic excellence and achievement through community service and other vehicles.
Moreover, there is a special bonding component to the event -- rallying all sports on campus.
"Last year, I got the invite and Mick told me that I should go to the Buckinghams,'' Krause said, "and I was real reluctant. I thought it was another formal event that would be real dry and boring.''
Once exposed to what the Buckinghams are all about, he was hooked.
"I love it,'' Comfort said. "You rarely find all the athletes in one venue at one time. So it's kind of nice to see everybody together -- all the different athletes from all the different sports.
"You get to mingle and you get to catch up.
"It's nice to see everyone dressed up and not in athletic gear.''
Byrne has become a big proponent of the Buckinghams.
"I love this, I absolutely love it,'' he said. "It's a got a great feel about it to the point where I've encouraged all of our kids to go.
"It's good to see that there's a reward for doing well in the classroom; a reward for getting involved in the community; a reward for getting involved in leadership programs.
"That's all good and there's a trickle down affect to all of our athletes.''
There are some unique twists to the Buckinghams, like the red carpet leading into the theater.
There's also the innocence and freshness of the performers.
Whether it's women's hockey player Katy Josephs playing the piano and singing "Only Hope'' by Mandy Moore ...
Whether it's women's rower Kendall Schmidt performing an original tap dance routine to "Turn up the Music'' by Chris Brown.
Whether it's women's cross country's Megan Beers singing "Never Alone'' by Barlow Girl ...
Whether it's quarterback Joel Stave playing the piano and singing "Drops of Jupiter'' by Train...
Whether it's women's cross country's Lavinia Jurkiewicz ballroom dancing with her partner to "Rabiosa'' by Shakira ...
Whether it's linebacker A.J. Fenton playing the guitar and softball player Kendall Grimm singing "Firework'' by Katy Perry ...
Whether it's The Big Shady Trees ...
It all works.
"Any opportunity we get as administrators or coaches,'' Byrne said, "to recognize our student-athletes for their achievements is great, and this is a fun way of doing that."
Good evening, hockey fans ...
Every journey has a starting point -- and for thousands upon thousands of University of Wisconsin hockey fans, it all started with this simple greeting from the public address announcer at the Dane County Coliseum.
Good evening, hockey fans ...
In the beginning, Phil Mendel's salutation was as much a part of the Badger hockey tradition as the "Sieve" chant and Martha's cowbell -- Martha was the wife of UW's legendary coach Bob Johnson; the bell was a rallying point for the "banshees'' and a staple of the "Coliseum experience.''
Good evening, hockey fans ...
By his own admission, Mendel was not much of a hockey player, having never laced up the skates for the varsity team at Shorewood High School in Milwaukee, where he was born and raised. But the sport was a passion; as it was with his good friend, John Riley.
"I was practicing pharmacy in the Park Motor Inn,'' reminisced Mendel, a decorated grad from the UW School of Pharmacy, "and John would come in for coffee and we would shoot the breeze.''
One day, Riley came in with the idea of reviving the hockey program at Wisconsin. It would be a collaborative effort, Mendel recalled, with Riley, UW athletic director Ivy Williamson and Blue Line Club founder Fenton Kelsey all taking risks.
The timing was ripe for a hockey rebirth because the school was looking to support another sport after boxing was dropped in 1960 following the death of boxer Charlie Mohr.
Hockey had some history on the Madison campus, dating back to 1922 when the Badgers fielded a team in the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League (WIHL), which also included entries from the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota.
Because of the economic crunch during the Depression, however, Wisconsin was forced to drop hockey as an intercollegiate sport in 1933, even though the Badgers continued to compete for several more years in the WIHL before finally disbanding.
Riley was determined to resurrect the sport. Kelsey provided the key building block: the rink, the Madison Ice Arena, which would later be renamed Hartmeyer Ice Arena and serve as the program's foundation before moving into the Coliseum in 1967.
Looking for someone to handle the PA announcing and the hiring of off-ice officials (goal judges, etc.), Riley turned to Mendel, who agreed to become the first "Voice'' of the Badgers in 1963.
While the nation was still mourning the death of President John Kennedy, UW played its first varsity hockey game since 1935 on Nov. 29, 1963 against St. Mary's College. Despite a loss, it was still a great day for hockey (predating Johnson's hiring in 1966). Riley and Art Thomsen were co-coaches.
Good evening, hockey fans ...
"I don't think I did it that way in the first game; I may have, but I honestly don't remember when I started saying it,'' said Mendel, whose signature ice-breaker gained immense popularity.
"I simply couldn't think of anything more succinct. It's like saying, 'He shoots, he scores.' I don't have a trademark on it. But I thought it was something the fans responded to.
"What more polite salutation can you give?''
As it evolved, the UW band, led by Michael Leckrone, returned the favor.
"When the Zamboni (piloted by the Chief, Bob Marks) left the ice before the opening faceoff,'' Mendel said, "the band used to say, 'Good evening, Phil.'''
On road games, Mendel was a color analyst and sidekick to Bob Miller on the WIBA radio broadcasts of Badgers hockey. (Later, he worked side-by-side with Paul Braun).
Yes, that Bob Miller, by the way, the Hall of Fame play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Kings since 1973 and the owner of his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Miller and Mendel remained close friends and spoke three and four times a week on the phone.
Last week, the original voice of the Badgers -- Phil Mendel -- was silenced. He was 89.
Mendel was definitely an original, too.
His love of the spoken language was exceeded only by his love of Wisconsin hockey.
No history of this sport is complete nor may it begin without, "Good evening, hockey fans ...''
Jake Byrne was among the more unsung components of the Wisconsin offense; a blocking tight end who rarely if ever drew attention to himself unless he missed a block that blew up a running play. Outside of the team meeting room, who would know? Such was his anonymity.
Byrne had one reception last season and six overall during his 51-game UW career. Yet he was a key contributor to the success that the Badgers have had moving the chains. Nobody realizes that more than Sam Arneson, who's competing for Byrne's job on the line of scrimmage.
"I learned a lot from watching him (Byrne),'' said Arneson, a freshman from Merrill, Wis. "I think people underestimated how good of a blocker he was. He got the job done; time-in and time out.
"That's who we're trying to replace -- being that consistent blocker on the edge. That's what you need to get the offense to go and the tight end is such a pivotal blocker.
"You don't realize that until you have a guy who can't make that block.''
Arneson has gotten a chance to prove himself with the No. 1 offense during spring drills due in part to an injury to tight end Brian Wozniak. The Badgers are looking for a complement to H-back Jacob Pedersen who's coming off an injury and began practicing for the first time this week.
While there's little experience behind Pedersen and Wozniak, both of whom are juniors, there's plenty of promise in the mix that includes Arneson and Brock DeCicco, a junior transfer from Pitt, and Austin Maly and Austin Traylor, redshirt freshmen from Waunakee, Wis., and Columbus, Ohio, respectively.
Even though Arneson is completing only his second semester on campus, he conceded shyly, "You feel a little older. You feel like the guys around you don't view you as that real young guy anymore. You feel like you can say something to a teammate and he'll take it with some respect.''
Arneson has begun to mature physically. Last fall, he reported to training camp at about 245 pounds. He got up to 260 this winter. "I focused on eating a little healthier to maybe shed a little fat and build some muscle,'' he said, crediting UW assistant strength coach Brian Bott for adding "good weight.''
Good how? Well, good from the respect where he said, "I think I'm faster than I was.''
Good also from another very important respect to his position.
"We have to be able to move people,'' said Arneson, speaking for the tight ends who are considered an extension of the offensive line. "It's definitely helping my blocking. I'm moving people better than I was in the fall, not only with my strength but with my (additional) weight.''
In high school, he acknowledged, "Run blocking was easy; it's something you could do.''
But he learned, "You get here as a freshman and they're all pretty much stronger than you.''
Arneson understood what had to happen next.
"You get in the weight room,'' he said, "and you put in the work over the winter.''
Arneson has been auditioning this spring under the watchful eye of a new tight ends coach, Eddie Faulkner, who has replaced Joe Rudolph. Comparing one to the other, he said, "Great coaches, but different coaches with different personalities.''
Asked specifically about Faulkner -- a former Badger running back -- Arneson, whose dad is a former UW tight end, said, "He (Faulkner) is someone you respect right away. He knows his stuff.''
The offense has been tweaked to a degree by coordinator Matt Canada. Along with the coaching turnover, Arneson pointed out, the personnel has also turned over. "We have some different play calls,'' he said, "and different players executing them. It's a lot of the same stuff with different terminology.''
There was the sense that some steps have been taken "and we'll continue to progress as we get more comfortable'' with the offense, he said; particularly given his own youth and inexperience. Arneson is striving "for consistency on every play and being the guy they can really count on.''
If he can get to that point, he would like to consider "maybe taking another step as a leader.''
Byrne took that route in his own quiet way and proved it's not a bad path to follow.
One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two ...
"Two seconds,'' Barry Davis said, "cost me the gold medal.''
Davis was guilty of one mistake - a two-second lapse - that put him in a hole and it turned out to be the difference in his 1984 Olympic freestyle wrestling match
against Japan's Hideaki Tomiyama.
At the end of the first period, Tomiyama took advantage of Davis on the mat and scored two points to take a 3-1 lead. "Now I had to chase him,'' Davis said. "You have to take more risks.''
Tomiyama, by contrast, could pick his spots, which he did in holding off Davis and winning, 8-3. Tomiyama left Los Angeles with the gold in the 125.5 pounds weight class. Davis took home the silver.
"I actually lost more my Olympic year than I probably did my whole college career,'' said Davis who had a record of 162-9-1 (.945) during his illustrious career at the University of Iowa.
That includes three NCAA championships, the last of which Davis collected upon his return to the Hawkeyes following his "redshirt year'' with the U.S. Olympic team.
"I was a much better wrestler my senior year,'' Davis said.
There was a different qualifying standard for the Olympic redshirt when Davis was a collegian.
"You had to be at the national tournament or you couldn't compete; that was a good criteria,'' said Davis, who just completed his 18th season as Wisconsin's head coach.
"I wouldn't say it was tougher back then, but it should be tough to qualify. You just don't want to let anybody in the tournament. You can't water down the (Olympic) games.''
Davis is okay with the current redshirt criteria that include student-athletes who earn a top three finish at the NCAAs and a top two finish at the university national championships; or a top eight finish at the Senior World trials.
Past NCAA champions and Senior World and Olympic team members also qualify for the redshirt.
Davis said the Olympic redshirt can be an invaluable stepping stone in preparing for the competition at the trials from the standpoint of gaining experience in a particular discipline.
"Whenever you travel overseas and wrestle in another country,'' he said, "you become better and more worldly because you've got to make changes because you're not in the U.S. environment.
"It makes you more mature all the way around.''
The Badgers will be well-represented at this weekend's Olympic Trials in Iowa City.
Joining the Olympic redshirts - Andrew Howe, Tyler Graff and Travis Rutt - will be Jesse Thielke, a future UW wrestler, who spent the year at the national training center.
Two of Davis' assistants - Ryan Morningstar and Trevor Brandvold - will also be competing. Davis will be rooting them all on knowing how difficult it gets when you reach this point in the process.
"At this level, it's the guy who can make the fewest mistakes,'' Davis said. "It happens so much quicker - the speed and the explosion. The technical skills are so tight; I'm talking so tight.
"One mistake could cost you a spot on the team.''
Or a gold medal.
One of the most meaningful endorsements that a tailback can get is from a linebacker who's entrusted with bringing him down on a regular basis. There's no better measuring stick than the collisions that routinely occur in these situations between the ball-carrier and the tackler.
So listen to what linebacker Chris Borland has to say about tailback Melvin Gordon:
"He's always been an athletic freak since the first day he stepped on campus,'' Borland said of the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Gordon, a redshirt freshman out of Kenosha Bradford High School. "He's a big guy with raw speed. He's got a burst and there are very few guys who can catch him in the secondary.''
Last fall, Gordon saw action in three of the first four games, including eight rushes for 32 yards and his first career touchdown Sept. 24 against South Dakota at Camp Randall Stadium. Overall, he had 28 carries for 98 yards before being sidelined for the rest of the season with a groin injury.
Gordon was able to qualify for a medical redshirt -- thereby preserving four years of eligibility -- because he appeared in less than one-third (4) of the UW's regular season games. During Rose Bowl practices, Gordon returned and got reps simulating Oregon's LaMichael James for the Badgers' No. 1 defense.
This spring, Gordon has reclaimed his own identity all the way to his jersey number: No. 25, which he wore at Bradford when he rushed for over 2,000 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior. In the 2011 training camp, there was the expectation that Gordon would help the Badgers on special teams.
Gordon switched to No. 3 to avoid a potential duplicate number situation with Adam Hampton, a senior defensive back, who was one of the UW leaders on special teams. Hampton was also No. 25.
"Coach B (Bret Bielema) said that he would give me my number back, so No. 3 was temporary,'' Gordon said.
Yes, and no. Last Saturday, Gordon was once again No. 3 -- on the depth chart at tailback -- behind Heisman finalist Montee Ball and James White, a 1,000-yard rusher as a true freshman in 2010. Competing with Gordon for that No. 3 slot is Jeff Lewis, who sat out the scrimmage because of an injury.
White and Gordon each had some explosive downfield runs.
"I'm just out here every day trying to grind and catch up from last year,'' said Gordon, who conceded that he has been able to close some of that ground that he lost to the others "with a new playbook'' under offensive coordinator Matt Canada. "It kind of evened it out for me,'' he said.
Asked for specifics on how the mix of four new assistants on offense may have impacted the play-calling, Gordon said, "It's a little simpler. The terminology has changed a little bit but when it comes down do it, we're still doing the same things, we're still playing Wisconsin football.''
In retrospect, Gordon feels like he got the most out of his disjointed freshman season. "Even though I wasn't participating, I was mentally preparing myself by knowing the plays,'' he said. "I definitely felt like I got mentally stronger. Being a young player, it comes with maturity.''
Borland saw the same things happening with Gordon.
"Early on, he epitomized the young guy,'' Borland recalled. "He came in and didn't quite know how to work. But he has picked up great tips from Montee and James and I definitely think he's going to play and contribute this year.''
Ball, in particular, has been a guiding light for the more inexperienced players on the roster. "Montee is a natural leader just by the way he goes about his business,'' said Borland. "Over the last season and into the spring, Montee has kind of a developed a voice, too, for the offense.''
Gordon paid Ball the ultimate compliment. "I try to compete against Montee,'' he said, singling out Ball's leadership and "how he carries himself in the workouts'' and on the practice field. "I'm just trying to learn how he works so when he leaves I'll know what to do and how to get there.''
Another Bradford product, freshman Vonte Jackson, has joined the "family'' of UW tailbacks. "That's how it is -- it's a brotherhood,'' Gordon said of the position group. "We're real close, we're together all the time outside of here (the stadium). If one needs help the other is there to provide that help.''
Based on the early results, Gordon is a strong candidate to help the Badgers wherever and whenever needed. Besides honing his receiving skills this spring -- what he calls "working on my craft'' -- there is Gordon' recognition that "Montee and James are the top guys'' in the backfield.
So does he feel like that he has something to prove?
"Yes sir,'' Gordon said. "It's important to get my name out there.''
So far, so good
"He's the real deal,'' Borland said.
Would a proven offensive guard like Kevin Zeitler, a first-team All-Big Ten selection at that position for Wisconsin, have any reservations about playing center, if that's what was asked of him by a pro team? "I wouldn't hesitate,'' he said. "I'd run on the field to play.''
He'd run through a wall first, if that's what it took to play in the NFL.
"Without a doubt,'' he said.
Fact is, Zeitler has fielded questions about his willingness to play center. "It seems like everyone asks, it only makes sense,'' he said. "In the NFL, the backup interior lineman, no matter who it is, has to play all the positions. You have to be ready for anything.''
Zeitler has spent a lot of time getting ready for this moment, the NFL draft.
"You can't be just some guy who wants to get drafted because you did well in college,'' he elaborated. "You have to show them that you're here for their team now and nothing you've done before matters. It's what you do from now on.''
Prior to the start of his freshman year, there was some speculation that Zeitler could wind up at center. So he worked out diligently at that spot on his own. "That's the story that Coach B (Bret Bielema) always tells about me snapping three hours a day,'' he said, smirking.
True or false? "It was clearly true, I was right there snapping against the wall,'' he said, pointing to a corner of the McClain Center, "while Coach was filming a car commercial over there (in an opposite corner). That's what I did all summer. But I got the right guard spot.''
And that's where he started 36 games for the Badgers.
"He stuck with me,'' Zeitler said of Bielema.
Here's a twist of irony: Zeitler worked out Wednesday in front of over a dozen NFL teams, including the Baltimore Ravens and their offensive line coach, Andy Moeller, who had recruited Zeitler while he was an assistant at the University of Michigan.
"He offered me (a scholarship),'' Zeitler said of Moeller, a former linebacker for the Wolverines and the son of ex-Michigan head coach Gary Moeller. "But he called back and said they couldn't take me because they had committed to too many interior linemen.
"I committed here two hours later. It kind of worked out,'' he said, smirking again.
Are there any questions that Zeitler still needs to answer in advance of the draft? "Right now, I guess, can I be a first rounder?'' he posed. "The key is that I want to show them that I'm athletic and try to prove to them that I'm worth a high pick.''
Regarding mock drafts, Zeitler has attempted to keep everything in perspective.
"It's the people who don't ever talk to you who draft you,'' he rationalized of the process. "It's going to be a nice surprise whenever I do get taken. I'll be happy no matter where it is.''
Would a proven offensive center like Peter Konz, a Pro Football Weekly
All-American at that position for the Badgers, have any reservations about playing guard, if that's what was asked of him by pro teams?
Well, first of all, nobody has formally asked yet.
"But what they've had me do,'' Konz said, "is some teams have had me snap, some teams have had me in a right-handed or a left-handed stance to get a feel for it (guard). In the NFL, they have seven spots; five for starters, one for an inside player, one for a tackle.''
In other words, Konz's words, it doesn't hurt to be flexible. If you can play center and guard or guard and center it will enhance your marketability. Wednesday's workout was really all about Konz, though Zeitler and UW offensive tackle Josh Oglesby took part in the drills, as well.
After managing only 18 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press at the NFL scouting combine, Konz needed to put up a bigger number -- which he did, 23 reps. Konz gave all the credit for his improvement to UW strength coach Brian Bott, who works with the O-line.
"Getting above 20 reps is important for everybody to make sure there are no red flags, as they say,'' Konz said. "Here at Wisconsin, we don't rep in the 2os at 225 pounds. We're not looking for 225, we're looking for 375, one to eight reps. It's a lot different.
"This will be the only time in my life I do this (reps at 225).
"But you do what your bosses tell you to do.''
Konz felt good about the agility tests and bag drills. More than anything, he wanted to do a little cutting and running (sans 40-yard sprints) so that interested teams could see that he's at least 90 percent recovered from his late-season ankle dislocation.
All he really wanted to do, he said, was show that he can "play football.''
Konz is a potential first-round pick based on what he has shown on tape alone.
"You try to get a feel,'' he said of his draft status and where he might wind up. "My family always asks, and I want to know, too. At the end of the day, it depends on who gets drafted and what trades are made and what a team needs (at a position).
"You may be the best player on the board -- according to some people -- but if the team doesn't need you, they're not going to pick you.''
The last few months, Konz has been adjusting to a different lifestyle.
"One of the strangest things is when you kind of lose that structure of school,'' he said. "For the most part, you don't push yourself as hard because you don't feel the pressure to do so. Kevin and Brian Bott worked me out every day. They were the fire (under him).
"Like Coach Bielema always says, 'When you feel like you're focused in school, you feel more of a drive to feel focused on the field, too.' I'm finishing up an 18-page paper on renewable energy and whether it's feasible. I'm going to get it done before the draft.''
Oglesby had his own motivation for working out Wednesday. "In my position,'' he said, "the more eyes, the better. I'm just trying to put my best foot forward for everyone. A lot of people say they have clues (on the draft) and things like that. I have no idea.''
The reality is that Oglesby has had so many knee surgeries over his high school and college football career that "I bring along baggage.'' That didn't prevent the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys from conducting individual workouts with Oglesby.
"A few teams in Indy said it was up to their medical staff on whether or not I'm slotted in the draft,'' he said of his time at the combine. "Hopefully someone can put aside the knee problems and just grade the player. It all depends on who's willing to take a chance.
"I just want the opportunity to show that I'm still a decent football player.''
Sounded like a modest request.
"You always say that you want to be out in the real world,'' Oglesby said. "And now the real world is here and it's kind of fun and scary at the same time.'' Especially knowing, he added, "The end of the month (the draft) is going to determine the rest of my life.''
This will serve as a final snapshot of Jordan Taylor in his Wisconsin game jersey: Taylor politely answering all questions at his locker following Thursday's loss to Syracuse in an NCAA East Regional semifinal; Taylor dutifully staying true to his core beliefs despite the pain.
On Taylor's left is fellow senior Rob Wilson, who's looking inconsolable; his body very nearly curled up in the fetal position. On Taylor's right is junior Mike Bruesewitz, who's looking drawn and tired; his legs stretched out, his head back, his eyes vacant.
Taylor is first asked about the gamesmanship with Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine, a fifth-year senior. Taylor and Jardine were roommates at the Deron Williams elite guard basketball camp in Chicago over the summer. They attended the Chris Paul camp, too.
At the 10-minute mark of the second half, Jardine buried a 3-point shot to push the Orange into a 51-47 lead. A smiling Taylor brought the ball up and immediately answered Jardine with a 3-point hit -- one of his five triples, matching a season-high.
Acknowledging Jardine, and the competitiveness that exists between them, he said, "It's a very serious game. At the same time you've got to have some fun.
"Above everything else, I've had a ton of fun during my four years here. I wouldn't trade it for anything.''
Taylor was later told that UW coach Bo Ryan had praised him for his work in grooming Wisconsin's front line of Bruesewitz, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans. Their development has been instrumental to the growth of the Badgers throughout the season.
Given that Berggren and Evans, in particular, had seen so very little playing time last season -- Berggren averaged 6.9 minutes and Evans averaged 11.6 while serving as understudys to Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil -- how far had they come as a group?
"Really far,'' Taylor said. "It's kind of a tough question to answer, just because I feel like they had that in them -- they just had to come out and show it. I'm sure I had a small role in that. But I didn't put all the talent in Ryan and Jared and Mike.
"That's not me. That's them working on their games hard in the offseason. My job was to try and get them the ball and encourage them -- be a leader for them. I did a decent job with that but, obviously, came up a little bit short.
"I hope that I helped them a little bit this year and I hope that I helped them move forward for next year, because they're going to have a really good team.''
All things considered, if Taylor had been given the ball and one possession -- one shot to win or lose against Syracuse, one shot to either advance his team to the Elite Eight or go home if that shot missed -- would he have accepted that proposition beforehand?
"I was thinking about it before the game,'' Taylor said. "I just had a weird feeling that it was going to come down to one possession. I mean obviously that's easy to say now. I just had a weird feeling that it was going to come down to that.
"I feel like seven-out-of-10, eight-out-of-10 times, we're going to get a score there. It's just unfortunate we didn't. Like I said earlier, hats off to Syracuse. They did a very good job of defending on that last possession. It was great defense.
"They did just enough to win.''
Berggren was presented the scenario: one shot to win or lose. Take it or leave it?
"Yeah, absolutely, I'd take it,'' he said. "To be in that kind of game back and forth -- they made runs, we made runs -- it's a lot of fun. That's what this tournament is all about. It's about guys playing with everything on the line and giving it all they have.
"To be down one (point) with the ball in our hands for one last possession, I never had a doubt; I believed to the very last second that we were going to win that game. To see the ball not go in at the end is heartbreaking.
"Until the final horn sounded and the ball didn't go in, I was still believing and hoping and praying and wishing that we'd be playing Saturday. But that's not the case.''
UW assistant coach Gary Close, who had put together the scouting report on Syracuse, felt that Badgers would have a chance to win the game if they made at least 10 3-point shots, had 10 or fewer turnovers, and had 10 or more offensive rebounds.
That was his formula: 10 + 10 + 10 = victory.
They finished with 14 3-point shots, six turnovers and eight offensive rebounds. "Maybe a couple of offensive rebounds would have gotten us one more bucket,'' he said.
So close, yet so ... painful.
"It was a one-point game in the Sweet 16 and we were one point short -- it's pretty tough to swallow,'' Bruesewitz summarized. "We did some good stuff. We made shots, played well as a team. It just wasn't enough, at least this time. We came up a little short.''
Sizing up the UW locker room, Close observed, "There's a lot of potential in here and they (the returning players) will get better. That's what this program is all about.''
From 1-3 in the Big Ten to one shot from the Elite Eight.
That's what this season was all about.
Rob Wilson, Ben Brust and Frank Kaminsky will be watching and studying. They will be taking mental notes on everything that takes place on the floor between Wisconsin and Syracuse in the early minutes of Thursday night's Sweet 16 game of the NCAA tournament.
They will each be paying attention to the individual matchups and all of the little details that impact runs and momentum despite not knowing for sure when they will get the call from Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan to enter the game against the Orange.
Staying ready is part of the challenge for any player who comes off the bench. Through the second and third round games - the wins over Montana and Vanderbilt - Wilson, Brust and Kaminsky are averaging 25.5, 16.5 and 4.5 minutes, respectively.
"You know that you could be called on at any time so you prepare your mind mentally that you're always ready," said Wilson, a senior, who stunned Indiana in the Big Ten tournament with 30 points in 32 minutes. He has two starts in 116 career games.
"You can learn a lot by not being out there right away," Wilson said, "because you're able to see what they're doing and you can almost figure out what their game plan is before you actually get into the game and go against it."
You can get a feel, Wilson noted, from watching how players move without the basketball on offense or handle screens on defense. Against Syracuse, which features a signature 2-3 zone, he will see if there are tendencies, especially jumping passing lanes.
"I want to know which guy is playing aggressively in their zone," said Wilson, adding that the most distinguishing characteristic of the Orange defense is the length of the players which they use to their advantage by getting deflections and creating turnovers.
"You always have to keep that in the back of your mind - that they are a lot longer than you might expect. So you have to make a lot of ball fakes and be strong with the ball. If you turn it over, there might be a dunk at the other end. They feed off that."
Understanding and accepting a bench role is key. "Our bench has been important all season and we have to keep bringing the energy," said Wilson who had 10 points against Montana but none against Vandy. "Scoring is not the only way you can contribute."
On defense, Wilson helped chase John Jenkins, who was held well under his season scoring average. He also had a couple of timely rebounds and assists without turning over the ball. That will be critical against Syracuse's ball-hawking defense.
"We haven't really faced a lot of zone this year," conceded Brust, who faced many box-and-one defenses in high school because he was such a big-time scorer. "We've played a lot of different defenses this year and we have to use that knowledge in this game."
As the opening minutes are unfolding, Brust said, "There's definitely a learning curve because you have the time to watch (from the bench) and see what's working, and what's not working and what mistakes are being made."
Brust had 11 points and four rebounds against Vanderbilt. That was the most he had scored since Jan. 26 when he had 13 against Indiana. But who's counting? "We have a balanced attack," he said. "Everybody can shoot, dribble, pass and defend."
Kaminsky, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out some things as a true freshman. Against Montana, he played only three minutes. "I was really nervous; it's my first tournament," he said, shrugging. "But I got rid of the nerves and now I'm ready to go."
While he's waiting for his turn, Kaminsky will try to get a feel for how Syracuse is handling Berggren and then put it to use when he's in the game. "If they're closing out too hard, then go to the rim," he said. "If they're playing off of him, then shoot it."
Getting up to game speed is more difficult. "You really have to be out there," Kaminsky said. "But you can pick up on the little things that can help you. Coach (Bo Ryan) is always telling us before the game to pay attention to what you can go in and do."
Syracuse's bench outscored Kansas State, 33-0. Dion Waiters, who's viewed in most circles as the top sixth man in college basketball, had a game-high 18 points while James Southerland chipped in with 15 points and six rebounds.
How will the Badgers counter-punch? Will it be Wilson? Brust? Will it be Wilson and Brust? Kaminsky has a reasonable expectation. "Even if I have to go in and give someone a break for a couple of minutes, that's fine," he said. "We have to do what we can do to win."