On the Hunt

With all the story lines surrounding No.12 Wisconsin and its offense heading into Saturday's season opener, few people have been talking about redshirt junior Jacob Pedersen, a preseason candidate for the John Mackey Award. That's OK by him, as Pedersen would prefer to stay in the weeds.

MADISON - Every day he walks out on to the practice field, Jacob Pedersen is thankful for the luck that brought him to the University of Wisconsin. After all, the Badgers had recruited only one player from Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the last 20 years (Jeff Messenger in 1994), so Pedersen's opportunity was even rarer.

So as he prepared to enter his fourth year in the program, Pedersen – a redshirt junior – decided it was time to pay honor to his hometown and heritage by getting a large deer antler tattooed over each shoulder blade.

"I'll hunt anything and everything if I can afford it," said Pedersen.

Pedersen has been in love with the sport since he worked on a deer farm owned by one of his best friend's uncles. He was gifted a pair of antlers from one of the bucks on the farm, a present that spurred his passion and a gift he recently had mounted along with a wild Badger.

"It's really cool," said Pedersen with a laugh. "It looks nothing like Bucky."

Sooner or later, Pedersen will start being able to put some trophies on his mantel from his ‘other' sport. A second-team all-conference selection by the Big Ten coaches last year and a Mackey Award semifinalist, Pedersen's eight touchdowns was tied for fifth-best at Wisconsin and second among tight ends in the country.

Not bad for a player that needed a couple Wisconsin high school coaches to call the UW coaching staff to tell them about this multi-dimensional athlete playing high school ball north of the border.

"I was really grateful for (those coaches) telling Wisconsin about me," Pedersen said.

As No.12 Wisconsin prepares to kickoff its season against Northern Iowa Saturday, the offensive talk amongst the media and the Badgers fan base has been centered on the new quarterback, Montee Ball, the new-look offensive line and the questionable depth at receiver. Despite his accolades, Pedersen is once again under the radar.

"Tight ends (at Wisconsin) usually get a lot of publicity, but I just like to go and do whatever I can for the offense," said Pedersen. "I don't have blazing speed, so you aren't going to see me running by a cornerback for an 80-yard score. I just have to go out there and do what I can."

Pedersen admits his game has been pushed to a new level since two years ago; when he became so frustrated with the transition from high school to college that he almost quit the team to possibly become a mortician. Slowly getting out of shape as last year progressed, Pedersen spent the summer conditioning his body and having a better eating schedule so he wouldn't wear down as the grind of a season progressed.

"I was eating a full meal at 10 o'clock at night, and I didn't like how my body felt," said Pedersen, who weighs 238 pounds and hopes to add a couple more pounds during the fall. "Over the summer, I switched all my habits. I don't feel quite as good as my redshirt freshman year, but I was 220 pounds then. I still have some work to do in the weight room, so hopefully I'll be right by the end of the season."

With uncertainties at wide receiver, Pedersen appears to once again be a focal point in the offense working with new quarterback Danny O'Brien. Throughout 7-on-7 and team drills in fall camp, the duo would often connect on open routes, allowing Pedersen space to turn up field and pick up yardage.

"Both Russell (Wilson) and Danny are great guys, so that makes it easy to have that connection," said Pedersen. "If you have some guy who is arrogant and not easy to work with, that obviously makes it a challenge. Being able to work with Danny all summer, which we didn't get with Russell, I think it helped with the timing a lot. We've taken a lot of reps out there.

"I don't know why but it always seems like we're on the right page. It always seems like he knows what I am going to do out there. That's good for me and good for the team."

Working with new tight end coach Eddie Faulkner, Pedersen believes he's a better tight end than last year because of the improvements in his blocking game. With Faulkner, a former UW running back, emphasizing footwork, lower pad level and going through more ball drills with his group, Pedersen has improved enough to keep his starting tight end spot from a group of eager competitors like Sam Arneson, Brock DeCicco and Austin Traylor.

"(Coach Faulkner) emphasizes finishing, so every time I make a catch I try to burst for 10 or 15 yards," said Pedersen. "I see that paying off. I feel that in my legs and in my endurance. There's more of a sense of urgency."

Pedersen believes a player needs to exceed what they did last year, meaning he wants his 30-catch, 356-yard season to be a footnote. It also wouldn't hurt in his eyes if he adds a few more championship rings to the two he already holds.

"It's my goal to get this team back to the Big Ten title goal and the Rose Bowl," said Pedersen. "That's what we're hunting for."

As for his actual hunting, that has been put on hold until later in the fall when he and roommate Conor O'Neill are heading into the woods. That promises to be another adventure.

"We took Conor finishing one time and he didn't even want to put the worm on the hook," said Pedersen. "If he gets a deer, we'll make him clean in."

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