New Confidence Under Center

With junior center Peter Konz, one of the best centers in the country, out for two to four weeks with a dislocated ankle, the Badgers will turn to sophomore Ryan Groy for his first career start under center, an opportunity he's relishing.

MADISON - Ryan Groy admits the butterflies were as big as bats.

It was the second week of the season and sophomore left guard Travis Frederick had gone down with a knee injury in the opener against UNLV. With the coaching staff unwilling to risk further damage with the season so young, a confident offensive line coach Bob Bostad pegged Groy, a third-year sophomore from Middleton, Wis., for his first start on the offensive line against Oregon State.

"That's probably the most nervous I've been going into a game," Groy said.

So with all the nerves for a seemingly ho-hum nonconference game, Groy must be feeling the anxiety having to replace an All-American candidate at center with an important two game stretch that determines whether Wisconsin plays for a conference championship and Rose Bowl appearance?

"No nerves because it's a great situation," Groy said. "I didn't expect it to happen all in one weekend, all the teams we needed to lose right away. I'll take it. It's nice to have control over the season."

Groy will start at least the next two games for No.15 Wisconsin, including Saturday's content at Illinois, as junior center Peter Konz recovers from a nasty left ankle injury suffered in the second half at Minnesota Saturday.

Konz, who was wearing an air cast and using crutches Tuesday, said he was lucky to escape major injury, attributing his luck to possibly his lower body strength, and will be aiming to return after the Badgers' regular-season finale against Penn State.

Groy doesn't miss the irony and opportunity the situation presents either. Konz first got his opportunity at center when Frederick went down with an injury in 2009 and now players, like quarterback Russell Wilson, are saying that Saturday could be Groy's ‘coming out party.'

"I finally get my turn, so I am excited for what I can do," Groy said. "The start earlier this year really helps going into this one. From that point on, I've prepared every game like I am starting. I always prepared in case somebody goes out."

Recruited to Wisconsin as a guard, Groy has seemingly been moved from vacant position to position so the coaching staff can utilize his skills and talents. Last season, Groy played all 13 games, started twice at fullback and is the lead protector on UW's punt shield protection. With UW needed depth at center, Bostad pulled Groy aside before spring practices and told him to start learning center.

"He's one of the more athletic people on the team," senior right tackle Josh Oglesby said. "Pete is incredible, but Ryan is going to be just as good and he's going to be a great player here. For the size he is, to be able to move the way he does and some of the things he does, he's definitely the most versatile of the offensive line and probably one of the most athletic on the team."

That athleticism was on full display in the season opener. Taking a play at right guard and in charge of being out in front on a James White screen play, Groy ran step for step with the speedy sophomore tailback for nearly 40 yards, setting up a field goal before halftime. It was an impressive sprint, but the only thing was that Groy didn't end up blocking anybody.

"That's what we were saying that it didn't make sense to run 80 yards down field, run a 4.4 (40-yard dash) but not touch anybody," said a laughing Oglesby. "That was nice for the fat guys to see somebody booking it down the field like that."

Added Groy: "I looked like Forest Gump running through the end zone. I felt kind of dumb on film."

The biggest challenge for Groy in addition to making the calls and assigning coverage at the line of scrimmage is getting the snap to Wilson without any problems. Over the course of the previous two seasons, both Konz and former UW lineman Bill Nagy handling snapping duties. Over the last 23 games, Wisconsin has yet to have a turnover on a quarterback-center exchange, let alone a botched snap.

With Groy having worked at center and each guard position on the second-team offense since the spring, confidence hasn't been the issue.

"Last year, I couldn't snap without it being on the ground," Groy said. "I have gotten a lot of reps over the past year and I think over the summer, I got a lot of reps and it really helped. I did a lot with Jon Budmayr and finally when Russell came."

"We do a lot of exchanges before practice and during practice, so it shouldn't be too rough,"

With right guard Kevin Zeitler graduating after the season and the real possibly that Konz may jump to the NFL, Groy recognizes that this performance could set the tone for what his role will be within the offense next season.

"It's the biggest thing it is – stepping in to see what you can do and show that you can be the guy next year," Groy said, "and the guy right now to finish off the season."

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