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Nagy to start at center

November 11, 2010 Comments off

MADISON – While they all may line up together, the differences between the guard, center and tight end positions are many. That hasn’t stopped Bill Nagy from transitioning seamlessly between the three spots this season.

Nagy, a fifth year senior from Hudson, Ohio, started the first four games of the season for the Badgers at right guard with Kevin Zeitler out with an injury. When the opportunity arose for him to fill in at tight end, Nagy jumped at that opportunity as well.

Now, with Peter Konz aggravating his right ankle injury, Nagy is set to start at center for the first time in his career Saturday against Indiana. As a senior, and one who missed all but three games last year, Nagy is savoring every chance he gets to put on the Wisconsin uniform, whether it be No. 76 or No. 89.

“Yeah, that’s probably the hardest part,” Nagy joked, referring to switching jerseys depending on the position. “It’s been a lot of fun, I’m just happy that I got the opportunity to play some tight end, too. It’s unfortunate what happened with Zeit at the beginning of the season and then obviously, Pete going down with his ankle and everything with that.

“I’m just trying to play hard, practice hard, and just have a next man in mentality.”

Nagy missed much of the 2009 season as a result of the events of July 16, 2009. On that night, as he rode his moped home from Camp Randall Stadium, going east on Dayton Street, a northbound car on Park Street ran a red light, hitting Nagy.

As a result of the crash, Nagy suffered a broken right wrist and torn ligaments in the arch of his right foot. Though he was able to tough it out through three games, Nagy eventually missed much of the season and was not 100 percent through spring practice.

“That was really tough and a freak thing,” said John Moffitt, Nagy’s roommate. “I was thinking about that the other day like, ‘Bill got hit by a car.’ How many people can say that? I was going to say something to him like, ‘Man, you got hit by a car, that’s crazy.’

“But just the way that he’s recovered and fought back, it’s not been easy. I don’t think people realize that, it’s a physical battle, but it’s also a mental battle, too.”

Having fought back, both mentally and physically, from those injuries, Nagy has become one of the most important members of the 2010 Badgers.

When Konz went down against Iowa, Nagy was more than capable of stepping in. He did, and helped the Badgers escape with the one-point victory. After the injury became an issue again at Purdue, Nagy stepped in and the Wisconsin offense didn’t miss a beat.

His performance at three positions this season has been impressive to say the least.

“Bill’s just the total team player and a selfless player. He’s in his fifth year now and he just wants to get on the field,” Scott Tolzien said. “That’s what makes teams special is when you’ve got a bunch of guys that are willing to just sacrifice their roles for the good of the team. Bill’s been a great example of that, and he’s been huge for us.

“He never dwindles in his confidence or what his role is. The great thing is he doesn’t pout, he doesn’t complain, he just takes it upon himself to just keep getting better every day. I admire his patience just for the way he’s approached it and it’s great to see it kind of come full circle and pay off for him.”

While playing three positions for the Badgers is one thing, Nagy’s ability to play center serves an even greater purpose. If he were unable to do so, head coach Bret Bielema would have to move Moffitt to center, forcing someone else to fill in at left guard as well.

With Nagy at center, the Badgers can maintain a stronger sense of continuity on the line, something that is especially important with Wisconsin’s power style of football.

“Me and Bill were talking about that, because he was like, ‘Why don’t they just plug you in at center?'” Moffitt recalled. “And well, one I said, I think I’m too fat for center right now, and on top of that I said, that’s just one change. Bill’s in, and then there’s still that consistency. Whereas, like Hawaii and Miami last year – Miami was a little easier because we had the time – but Hawaii, we moved me to center, we moved [Travis] Frederick into left guard, and that’s two changes, and that kind of changes half a line.”

As long as they’ve got Nagy, who can fill in anywhere on the line, the Badgers should not have to worry about such dramatic changes this season.

Clay, Bielema focused on offensive line before OSU

October 18, 2010 Comments off

MADISON — Standing behind John Clay with his helmet off Saturday, you’d see the following numbers in his head: 68, 74, 66, 70 and 58. Lining up in the Wisconsin backfield, Clay sees the same set of numbers every time he takes the ball.

It took Clay about 20 minutes of work in the barbershop to show his appreciation for what his teammates do. Within the game’s first five minutes, Clay was thanking them again.

Clay burst through a big hole created by the Wisconsin offensive line and rushed 14 yards for the touchdown. Less than 12 minutes of game time later, Clay found the end zone again. As the Badgers led 21-0 over the No. 1 team in the nation, hard work by Clay and the offensive line paid off in a big way.

“He practiced as hard as I’ve ever seen him practice and really executed ball security, and he gave the tribute to the five offensive linemen, shaving their numbers in his head,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said of Clay. “It was a way of John saying, ‘I respect what you guys have done.’ His success is a lot about what they do, so again, just a good example of team chemistry.”

Wisconsin’s offensive line guided Clay to 104 yards rushing on 21 carries, as well as those two first half touchdowns.

Afterward, as he does after every game, Clay credited his success to the hard work up front by Peter Konz, John Moffitt, Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler and Ricky Wagner.

“I just told them they’ve been working hard for me all week and this whole year, so I told them I’d do something special when the big game came,” Clay said. “It worked out in a good way.”

With the Badgers facing one of the toughest defensive lines in the country in Ohio State, Clay was not the only one focused on the offensive line this week.

Knowing the battle in the trenches could very easily determine the outcome of the game against the top-ranked Buckeyes, the head coach looked to give his front five a little added motivation.

“I did challenge them,” Bielema said. “I don’t do that very often as a head coach. I don’t want to set kids up for failure. If I do something like that, it’s usually that I have a really strong belief that it’s going to come through.

“Everybody made a big deal about the 29 games that Ohio State had played without a 100-yard rusher. I threw it in those guys’ faces all week. I threw it at our running backs, but it all starts up front for us. For us to have success, we have to play well at the offensive line.”

Konz, Moffitt, Carimi, Zeitler and Wagner answered the challenge in a big way. Not only did they pave the way for Clay to become the first opposing player in 30 games to rush for 100 yards or more against OSU, they also kept their quarterback upright.

Attempting 16 passes on the day, Scott Tolzien was not sacked a single time. But did the offensive line need to challenged?

“I don’t know. I mean, that’s a good question,” Moffitt answered. “We play our game and we always try to play our game. Obviously, when the head coach calls you out, you just have to raise the bar, and I think that’s what we did.

“It feels great. We did the right things and we won the game.”