Following Outland Footsteps

It was more than a flip of the coin decision, but had Wisconsin decided to not put a redshirt on Gabe Carimi, resulting in him spending a year behind one of the best left tackles in program history, there would be no Outland and maybe no Rose Bowl.

LOS ANGELES - Had UW Coach Bret Bielema and Offensive Line Coach Bob Bostad thought differently five years ago, UW's 2010 season would have been drastically different, particularly when it comes to the left side of the offensive line.

Nearing the end of fall camp and wanting to play only one true freshman, the decision between the two UW coaches came down to who was better and who should play between Monona Grove's Gabe Carimi or Sturgeon Bay's Jake Bscherer.

On first glance, the decision is a head scratcher. In hindsight, the choice was ingenious.

Instead of playing him sparingly, the coaches put Carimi in the shadow of third-year starter Joe Thomas, a massive left tackle from Brookfield that defined hard work, intuitiveness and what it meant to protect a quarterback's blindside.

"It's huge having someone like that to look up to," Carimi said of the 2006 Outland Trophy winner. "You get to see up close what it takes to be successful. There's no substitute for hard work."

Carimi was a Parade All-American, first-team all-state player and first-team All-Conference selection on both sides of the ball at Monona Grove High School with all the athleticism in the world. Problem was his undersized frame (6-foot-7, 265 pounds) meant his body and strength didn't match his skills.

So while Bscherer contributed, Carimi stood back, growing physically and mentally.

"You could see that he wanted to move in those directions but his body wasn't there yet," Bostad said. "It didn't take long. He just kept getting better, bigger and stronger and his body control got better. The more you know about the game and your game, the better you are going to be.

"Joe was a no-nonsense serious worker and when you see a great player act that way, more times than not, you are going to act that way"

Carimi has emulated Thomas in the best possible way – no quit, no excuses, no stopping. Carimi has started 48 of 51 possible games at left tackle, missing only three games in '08, and battled last season through a sprained AC joint in his shoulder and gutted through a dislocated knee cap in UW's victory over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. And just like Thomas, Carimi was not satisfied.

"I felt if I had a good year, I would have a good chance to really showcase my stuff," Carimi said. "I just felt like last year I was just trying to battle through injuries instead of playing well."

Playing injury free for the first time in his career, Carimi's 2010 season was the definition of hard work, having started all 12 games and neutralized the three biggest defensive ends in the conference.

Carimi lined up against OSU's Cameron Heyward, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan in three consecutive games. The combined stats for those three players was 12 total tackles and 2.0 TFLs. Wisconsin was the only team to hold Kerrigan, the nation's leader in tackles for loss, without a TFL this season.

Even with the 2010 Outland Trophy on his mantle, Carimi, like Thomas, still isn't satisfied.

"I wish our season would have been one game better and there's probably a total of 10 plays that I want to absolutely have back," said Carimi, who played approximately 700 plays this season. "That film is out there, so I have to keep working to get better. I wish I could have those back, have that perfect year where you feel absolutely satisfied. If I didn't have those 10 plays, I'm sure I would fine 10 other plays I didn't like."

Just like Thomas having an impact on Carimi, Carimi has had an impact on his good friend, senior left guard John Moffitt. The two met right off the bat, became close friends two years ago and have grown to the point where they've started the last 15 games next to each other and both were named first-team All-Americans.

"Being next to a great player on the offensive line makes you a great player," Moffitt said. "There's no doubt that he is a great player. Playing next to him raises my ability, and the communication we have and the history we have playing together for so long mixes up really well. We really developed together and I have a lot of respect for each other.

"We've developed together and we've tried to assess our weaknesses together and fix them. I've noticed just a big difference in our strength from this year to last year. We try to make those leaps together and he's been a guy that always tried to improve his game, improve his game. I respect that about him."

Looking back, that gambled in '06 has paid off nicely for Wisconsin. The versatile Bscherer only cracked the starting lineup seven times before transferring to Southern Illinois in February while Carimi will make his 31st consecutive start against No.3 TCU Jan.1 in the Rose Bowl with the Outland Trophy and an invitation to the Senior Bowl in his hip pocket.

With a combination of teammates, health, experience and motivation, it's hard to pinpoint where Carimi's success came from this season. It's easy to pinpoint where it started; a decision that made him a member of Wisconsin's first Rose Bowl team in 11 years.

"We have played great this year but we have to end it the right way," Carimi said. "We can't be the greatest o-line in UW history if we don't win Saturday."

Badger Nation Top Stories