Dec. 16, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- UW center Peter Konz has grown accustomed to carrying the weight of his world on his broad shoulders.
Just last year it was the uncertainty that followed the discovery of blood clots in his lungs which cut short his season.
Just the other day it was the 535 pounds that he put on the bar and squatted, which was a personal best.
There was frustration in not knowing what he could do.
There was exhilaration in knowing what he had done.
Welcome to his world – stark reality, and belly laughs.
“That was big, especially in-season, that was unheard of,” Konz said of his 535-pound squat. “The focused mindset that we’ve had all year as a team transfers to the weight room, too.
“When you’re winning, you’re feeling good and if you’re feeling good, you do good things. If you hit your best (the 535), you feel like you can play your best. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But, at least, you can convince yourself of it.”
A year ago, Konz had to convince himself that the blood clots were a speed bump, a wake-up call for a 20-year-old football player who vowed never again to take anything for granted after the clots put him in a Honolulu hospital.
While his teammates scored victories over Hawaii in the final regular season game and Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl, he began taking steps to get back on the playing field. It was a long journey – sans spring practice.
Welcome to his world – in the weight room.
“I was hitting personal bests all the time last spring, whether it was the bench, squat, whatever it was,” said Konz, a redshirt sophomore from Neenah. “I knew I couldn’t get better on the field but somehow I had to keep up with everybody and the way I was going to do it was in the weight room.”
Nothing has changed in that respect today.
“It’s more of a feeling, ‘I want to do as well as my teammates, let’s do this together,’” Konz said of the competitive nature of the offensive line. “That’s the way I always look at it even though we’re always trying to one-up each other. I still feel more like, ‘If he can do it, I can do it, just because we’re a team.’”
As helpless as Konz may have felt last December when he couldn’t participate in bowl practices, he felt much worse during the second half of the Oct. 23 Iowa game when he couldn’t compete because of a badly sprained ankle.
Konz started and performed at maybe 80 percent in the first half. “To tell you the truth, I was hurting in warm-ups,” he said. “It hurt to run down the field just to get to the warm-ups. At halftime, there was excruciating pain.”
Despite his easy-going nature, he’s a tough guy. But this was even too much for Konz to “tough out” -- although he tried his damndest to make it work.
“I was in the locker room at half and they were trying to spat me up,” he said. “I already had my ankle taped, I had on an ankle brace and I had my shoes laced up tight. Now they were trying to put tape around the shoe.
“Every time they would wind the tape around my foot, I’d feel a shooting pain and I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. They could see it, too. And once we got back on the field for the second half, I told them.”
That hurt the most.
“I was praying that I would be able to go back in,” he said.
But it was in the best interests of the team that he sat out.
“Hardest thing I probably ever had to do,” he said softly.
That’s because he was aware of the magnitude of the Iowa game.
“Huge game, huge in my mind – biggest game of the season at that point,” he said. “And it was so hard not going back out there. People don’t realize this is a 24/7, 365-day a year job. After the blood clots, I didn’t want to miss a single game because I knew how bad it felt when I missed those games last year.”
Senior offensive lineman Bill Nagy has been the equivalent of duct tape whenever the Badgers spring a leak. Nagy replaced Konz at center and the Badgers rallied to beat the Hawkeyes; a stepping stone to the Rose Bowl.
After Tuesday’s practice, Konz said that he was back at 100 percent. “Don’t have to get any treatments, I’m feeling good,” he said, breaking into laughter.
He was feeling particularly good about his roommate, left tackle Gabe Carimi winning the Outland Trophy. “That was just awesome,” Konz said. “He’s one of the big reasons why I’m doing as well as I am on the field.”
Konz has taken a circuitous path to playing center. He lined up at defensive tackle in his first training camp before he was converted into an offensive guard. He was then shifted to right tackle during his first spring.
That’s when Carimi had a big impact on his preparation. An injury to John Moffitt, who had been the starting center, and a subsequent injury to his replacement, Travis Frederick, created an opening in the lineup for Konz.
This week, Carimi and Moffitt were named first-team All-Americans. “That’s just beautiful,” Konz said. “Hopefully one day (Kevin) Zeitler and I and Ricky (Wagner) can do what these guys are doing and follow in their footsteps.
“With Gabe, it felt like it was an honor for the O-line – not just Gabe – and we as a group accepted it (the Outland). The same with Johnny (Clay) being a Doak Walker finalist. When he was up there, it was like we helped him get there.”
Getting to the Rose Bowl means everything to Peter Konz.
“It just means that I’m officially a part of the Wisconsin legacy,” he said. “I’m not just someone trying to build the program up. I’m one of the people who are living it (the dream). We’re part of one of the greatest traditions in America.
“People around here always like to say, ‘Wisconsin with Barry Alvarez went to three Rose Bowls.’ Now we can say, ‘Wait a minute, make that four.’”
Thereby lifting a weight off everyone’s shoulders.