As I settled into my upper deck seat for the Badgers-Zips game earlier this month, I was anticipating watching the scoreboard lights putting the amperage test to the max.
Expecting a shootout between the gun slinging Charley Frye from Akron and the potentially powerful offense of the Badgers would make for an enjoyable afternoon. Little did I realize that a side effect of a high scoring game would reveal an intriguing story.
The story would not be the usual focus you read on who scores the big touchdown or who put up the big numbers on offense. Instead, I realized from the opening kickoff we would enjoy watching a super-human effort from some guy on the UW kick coverage team wearing No. 10.
After watching the opening kick off to Akron, I scrambled for my program to see who this crazy kid was flying down the field and taking on the human wedge. The wedge is a strategy that every football team in America uses to attempt springing their return man for maximum yardage. Sort of like running into the snow plows we see on the highways during Wisconsin winters. Only this kamikaze was taking out the plow by himself!
"No. 10 Chris Catalano, LB, 6-1, 206, SR/JR, Thousand Oaks, California," I read as I was shouting to my friends next to me what great show this was going to be! Obviously from the upper deck he didn't look that big, but we all know coaches look for the faster and more agile players to sacrifice their bodies on the special teams, not to mention the guys who may be a little off center! And usually that means the smaller guys. They have something to prove to the coaching staff, they need to be noticed by the coaches so they can get more minutes on the field. This is an effective, albeit precarious manner to accomplish it however. It turns out that Catalano is a career special teams guy who is knocking down wedges for a third season in the Cardinal and White.
The majority of these guys were star athletes in high school. Catalano was actually the 1999 state prep player of the year in California, which is no small task. He also carried a 4.0 grade point in high school, so he couldn't be too crazy could he? But he, like the others on the bomb squad, want minutes and what better way to show your toughness and intestinal fortitude than by knocking down three guys at a time?
I couldn't wait for Wisconsin to start scoring so I could watch Catalano take out three guys on the same hit, running full throttle down the field! And neither the Badgers, nor Catalano, disappointed me on this beautiful summer-like afternoon.
Every kickoff, good old No. 10 was giving his growing fan club in rows 25, 26, and 27 of section BB, enough to talk about until the next kickoff.
Watching the mundane and routine aspects of a game, like special teams, has always been an afterthought for most football fans. But coaches know better. Special teams coach Brian Murphy knows too. "I really give all the guys on special teams a lot of credit," he said. "Whether they are starters, whether they are backups, whatever their role is, all of those kids play hard on those special teams. They know it's an important part of our program."
So no matter where you sit to watch the Badgers. In the upper deck, the student section (they're usually standing), the expensive seats, or on television, keep you eyes peeled for guys like good old No. 10, Chris Catalano. You can bet the return team is making sure they know where he is.