Several Badgers among awards finalists
MADISON — As the postseason awards name their finalists, they should always be taken with some grain of salt. Even with that in mind, it was an impressive week for Wisconsin.
As a number of postseason individual awards named finalists this week, five Badgers — four on offense and one on the defensive side of the ball — and one UW head coach made the cut. They weren’t listed for just any awards either.
Senior left tackle Gabe Carimi made the final cut for the Outland Trophy, given annually to the nation’s best interior lineman. Three-time Pro Bowler, and Brookfield, Wis., native Joe Thomas currently holds the honor of being the only Outland Trophy winner in school history.
“I remember holding the bag for Joe Thomas,” Carimi said. “It’s a long way from that.”
Carimi’s honor undoubtedly comes in part as recognition for Wisconsin’s dominant rushing attack, which has been near impossible to stop over the past few games.
Of course, the three-headed monster out of the backfield wouldn’t likely have quite the same success without Carimi, a future first-rounder, leading the way.
“It’s a great honor and all I have to do is focus on keeping on playing well,” Carimi said. “I know my teammates helped me out to get me in that position. We have a great offensive line and obviously they looked at that, and we’re scoring and we’re running well. Obviously all that came into play when I got nominated.”
Joining Carimi in playing a huge role in blocking for the Wisconsin running game is senior tight end Lance Kendricks. While the Milwaukee native has not enjoyed the kind of statistically impressive season many predicted for him in the passing game, it didn’t matter.
Kendricks found his name this week as one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s best tight end. Though current New York Giants tight end Travis Beckum was a semifinalist in 2006 and a finalist in 2007, if he were to win Kendricks would be the first Mackey Award winner in school history.
“That was definitely one of my preseason goals, just a personal goal to have and just something to strive toward,” Kendricks said of the award. “I think it’s a good honor just to be nominated for something like that.
“Just going out there and working hard and knowing at the end of the day, as long as you work hard, you’re going to get better. I think that’s kind of just what I live by as far as playing football.”
With Kendricks up for one of the more prestigious awards in the nation, it has not gone unnoticed by Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema.
In fact, he’s gotten on the phone since hearing the news, campaigning for his tight end. It’s not the first time Bielema has done such a thing, either.
“Early in my coaching career, one of the first players that was up for a national award was, Joe Thomas was up for the Outland Trophy,” Bielema said. “At the time Justin [Doherty] was the guy, and I said ‘Give me the voting list of all the people that vote for the Outland Trophy,’ and I just started calling people.
“I was in my car, driving around recruiting, called like 25 people, and they were all taken aback that I would call and lobby for my guy. I’m like, ‘Well, hey, he’s done everything for me for this year and beyond, I’ll do anything for him.’ So I’ve gotten on the phone over the last week and tried to reach out to so many people.”
One of three running backs Carimi and Kendricks have been blocking for is John Clay, the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year.
Despite missing the last two games due to injury, Clay was one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, given each year to the best running back in the country. While backups Montee Ball and James White have stolen the show lately, Clay got the nod as the Badgers leading rusher.
While the injuries have prevented Clay this season from putting up the numbers he’s shown he is capable of, the success and reputation of the Wisconsin rushing attack likely gave him a boost.
“I definitely think that has a lot to do with the success of the team,” Kendricks said of the multiple award finalists. “It’s hard to say enough about those guys.”
While Carimi, Kendricks and the rest of the offensive line lead the way up front for Clay, none of it would run as smoothly as it has without a competent signal caller behind center. Enter senior quarterback Scott Tolzien who has quietly led the nation in completion percentage through 11 games.
Tolzien, who also ranks in the top ten in pass efficiency, was named a finalist this week for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, given each year to the top senior quarterback in the country.
“Me and Gabe were talking about it, and there’s a lot of interchangeable parts on this team, along the line, the running backs, the receivers, and I don’t think Scott Tolzien is one of them,” said senior left guard John Moffitt. “Scott is a valuable piece of the offense.”
Being the humble leader that he is, Tolzien politely disagreed.
“I think this program’s in good hands no matter who’s at quarterback.”
Along with the four offensive nominees, junior defensive end J.J. Watt was named a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Award, and Bielema was named by the Football Writers Association of America as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award.
In talking about the awards at his Monday press conference, Bielema looked beyond the simple recognition of his players’ accomplishments.
What he was most proud of was the character of the athletes nominated.
“In today’s day and age, with these national awards, it’s one thing, it’s his body of work usually their senior year, or the year that they win the award that they’re going to get this basically get the recognition,” Bielema said. “But what’s this person going to be like two years, a year from now, two years from now, three years from now? I think it came to light with the Reggie Bush thing, and now there’s all this other discussion.
“I can guarantee this, J.J. Watt’s up for awards, Lance Kendricks is up for awards, Scott Tolzien is up for awards, John Clay, [is up for the Doak Walker Award].
“But those kids, if they win those awards, there will never be a day of embarrassment for that trophy because they represent some pretty good qualities in people.”