Building on Experience

After being one of the few true freshman to contribute on last season's Big Ten championship team, sophomore tight end Sam Arneson has used that experience to build his body and his confidence heading into his second year.

MADISON - One of three scholarship tight ends that enrolled with the Badgers in the fall, Sam Arneson was coming from Merrill, Wis., where his pass catching ability was sound, but his blocking abilities needed improvement. After all, when you are one of the biggest kids in the conference, Arneson had no problem pushing smaller players around.

Even with his shortcomings, Arneson did enough positive strides to play in 10 games last season as a blocking tight end, including playing in the Rose Bowl. Following in the steps of his father, Dave, who played football at Wisconsin and lettered as a blocking tight end in 1983-84, the younger Arneson is pushing for a starting spot after turning in an impressive spring camp.

Pushing his weight over 250 pounds, Arneson has shown to be a tough matchup for opposing defenses in the passing game and has held his own against some of UW's talented defensive ends, giving UW's coaches confidence that the in-state sophomore will be able to contribute in a bigger role next season.

Badger Nation talks to Arneson about last season and the strides he is making to prepare himself for the fall.

Talk about the opportunity you got last year by playing instead of redshirting and how that experience helped you moving forward?

Arneson: I think just a confidence factor. I feel like I am night and day from last year with the experience that I got. I am so much more confident, and it comes also from being stronger. The confidence I have now in making my blocks, making plays and it's been really big learning the offense. Yes it switched, but it's basically our same kind of plays. While other guys were running the scout team, running it for real with the big group helps you really learn your technique and focusing in on it every day. That's been big for me in taking the next step.

Do you come in wanting to play right away or did it just happen as fall camp went along that you had an opportunity to help the team?

Arneson: I definitely came in wanting to play. I think that's everybody mindset. Did I totally expect to? I mean, I wouldn't say I totally thought I would be playing right away. I thought that I might have had the ability. Even with the guys coming back last year like Jake Byrne, Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, with how we use tight ends we are pretty thin. Coach Rudolph told me always be ready to go, and it was great getting that experience. It was great getting that experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Other than confidence, what was the big thing you learned from being out there?

Arneson: Just the speed of the game. That's probably one of the things, learning the speed and strength of everyone out there. You know everybody is going to be strong coming in, but then you see it for real and you realize how much harder you have to work. You have to put that time in to really get on the college level. I think I hopefully took that step in the winter and I'll be ready to work even harder in the summer once spring ball is finished up to get ready for the fall.

Knowing how hard you had to work and approaching winter conditioning with that mindset, tell me how you changed your body to get yourself in the right shape this spring?

Arneson: Football is a tough sport. You always know that, but I don't think people anticipate how hard it is at the college level. How much of a grind it is and how hard it is on your body. You really have to focus on everything you do – from our stretching to our little strength exercises to our big lifts. You have to make sure you are always preparing yourself, eating right and getting in your best physical conditions to be at your peak performance to play for real.

How much weight did you add or lose?

Arneson: Last year I played at about 245 pounds, and I got up to about 260 in the winter. I am back down to around 255 pounds now. I feel like that's a good weight. The weight I have put on is good muscle weight. I've gotten all my lifts increased. I am feeling good, feeling confident and ready to go.

That's a big size for a tight end. Do you feel heavy because when you move, you look pretty fluid?

Arneson: I think I am moving well. I watch the film and I feel like I am moving well. I feel good when I am running. Weighing 255 pounds isn't a bad weight. It's pretty heavy, but I am happy as long as I am moving well and maintaining it.

I knew you could catch the ball in high school, but I think even you would agree that your blocking wasn't quite up to the college level. How did you blocking improve under Rudolph in year one?

Arneson: I played tight end pretty much my junior year of high school. I played a little bit sophomore year, but junior year was really the only year I played tight end. At that level, you can just be the bigger and stronger guy who can move people. You learn so much in that first college year in trying to block those Big Ten defensive ends like the guys I went against last year. You just learn that it's so much technique, pad level and you have to do it right every play or that guy will beat you. It's been amazing to learn that technique and even when you are doing it right what can happen. I feel like I've had a pretty good spring so far blocking.

How much did a guy like Russell Wilson help with your pass catching abilities?

Arneson: Yeah, Russell was always great to work with. He was always such a smart player, and that's what's going to give him a shot in the pros. He knew exactly what would work and what he wanted out of the route. Obviously he could put the ball where he wanted, so learning from what he told guys, told me and take everything in that you can.

What's the big difference learning from an experience guy in Joe Rudolph to a somewhat inexperience tight end coach in Eddie Faulkner, who certainly brings a lot of energy?

Arneson: We love his energy. Obvious Coach Rudolph was fantastic, but Coach Faulkner has stepped in and has been awesome. We had immediate respect for him and he was straight forward with us from day one. He told us he is going to work us. He doesn't have too much experience at tight end, but he is a great football coach. He is learning quick, and he knows his stuff. We've taken too him well and we're trying to get better every day.

How much confidence are you playing with right now and is that something you are excited to carry forward?

Arneson: I am really excited to get better every single day. I feel like I have done solid job so far, but there is so much room for me to get better and improve still. It'll be nice this next week to continue to grow and set myself up well for the fall.

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