MADISON - One of the first goals head coach Gary Andersen set out for his program on the recruiting trail was to beef up the numbers on the offensive line, a position that had become dangerously thin because of injuries and graduation.
It was perfect timing for a big-time legacy recruit being ready to join the Badgers’ program.
Having a father play at Wisconsin and captain the 1993 team to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl victory, George Panos had always put the Badgers at the top of his priority list. He was so in love with the program and its rich history that shortly after the Badgers offered him a scholarship, he wasted little time in committing, even though it was almost two years before he could officially sign his national letter of intent.
Returning for a fifth season, Badger Nation does a meet and greet with the newer members of the Wisconsin football team, shedding a light on some of the unknown kids that figure to be important parts of the Badgers’ future.
Asking 15 questions, we call this segment the Freshman Fifteen.
What’s been the hardest part for you adjusting to college life?
Panos: There’s a lot more going on. You’ve got classes, tutors, study table, football; all that stuff. I think the biggest adjustment really is trying to balance all that stuff that’s going on. It was hard at first to get it all jumbled up and not knowing where to be and when, but it’s slowed down a little, so it’s getting pretty easy.
What’s been the hardest part adjusting to college football?
Panos: The grind and everything is pretty bad, but I am used to hard work. The biggest part of it was the complexity of it. You go from a run-right-run-left offense to a bunch of different schemes, adjustments, checks and alignments. The mental part is the hardest part to get used to. I am not used to it yet, but I’m working there.
Since you arrived here, how have you changed your body to prepare for the college game?
Panos: I knew I needed to come in at tip-top shape. I slimmed down to a pretty good 290. I wanted to come in as fast and as strong as I could get, but still be pretty lean. Once I got here I just knew I had to get stronger. I’ve put on about 13 pounds since coming in. I think most of it has been muscle, just getting stronger so I can compete at the next level.
What do you think your strengths are right now where you can help this team and what your biggest areas of weaknesses?
Panos: I still have to really improve my technique. It’s a very technique-oriented offense, so I have to work on that. I am getting better on grasping the system and all that, but that’s still something that I need to work on. I like to get after it. I still have the physicalness to my game, so I would say that’s my biggest strength right now.”
How is Madison different than your home town of Hartland, Wis.? What’s the biggest difference?
Panos: It’s bigger. There’s a lot more people. I come from a big high school of about 2,500 people but this is way beyond that. I’m having to get used to the hustle and bustle between classes and all the people and everything else going on. That’s a big adjustment from my home town.
Do you have any idea what you want to study in college?
Panos: I am taking my prerequisites to try to get into the business school. I want to do something in business.
What’s your favorite place on the Madison campus?
Panos: That’s a good question. I guess here; hanging out in the locker room and the facilities with all the guys here is probably my favorite place to be.
What’s your least favorite place on campus?
Panos: I don’t want to be that guy to say the classroom, but I am going to say the classroom.
What do you enjoy doing most in your free time when you get the chance to kick back and relax?
Panos: I like to take naps. That’s always a good thing to get the body ready for the rest of the day. I like to hang out with a couple of my buds and go down to State Street or the Terrace just to hang out.
Who are you going to live with this fall? How are those relationships?
Panos: Me and Conor Sheehy are living together. It’s going really well. We worked out together all winter and spring, so we’ve got a good friendship going.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learn about Conor?
Panos: Probably nothing he wants me to say in an interview (laughing).
Who was your big brother and was the biggest thing you learned from him?
Panos: My big brother is Big Rob Havenstein. He’s obviously a big-time player, one of the best offensive linemen in the Big Ten and the country. He’s probably going to go on and enjoy a real big pro career, I hope, and he definitely deserves it. He works hard. Being where he is as far as football goes, he’s still very technique oriented. He preached all the details and things like that. He’s someone I really look up to because even when you are as far as long as he is, you still have to work on the little things.
Where does your biggest support come from? Family? Friends? Teammates?
Panos: I would probably say my teammates. My mom and dad are always behind me with all the stuff that’s gone on. They always want me to call them up every few days and give them updates to what’s going on, how’s football going, how’s life going, that sort of thing.
What’s your parents reaction to you playing college football here, being on your own for the first time and starting your journey at this school?
Panos: It’s still unreal. Walking out of the tunnel first time I played here with a packed crowd was pretty unreal. Growing up and watching guys on the field, I’m actually running out there with them.
What’s the best part of being a Wisconsin football player and putting on that red and white jersey?
Panos: It’s awesome. It really is a dream come true to finally be here. It was my life goal for forever now. I’m here now and trying to make the best of it.