Former Badger great offers prospects a unique test

Tim Krumrie's imposing challenge tests the courage of recent UW defensive linemen

MADISON — The six defensive linemen Tim Krumrie engaged in hand-to-hand combat Wednesday would be fortunate to enjoy his success in the National Football League.

Krumrie, the Buffalo Bills' defensive line coach, spent 12 seasons (1983-94) as a star defensive tackle with the Cincinnati Bengals. Before that he was a standout at the University of Wisconsin, where he found himself Wednesday for the Badgers' Pro Timing Day.

So there was Krumrie, a member of the UW athletics' Hall of Fame, in a T-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots, testing the mettle of Anttaj Hawthorne, Jason Jefferson, Erasmus James, Kalvin Barrett, Jonathan Welsh and Darius Jones.

One-by-one they stepped up to literally do battle with Krumrie. For minutes that had to feel like hours, the Badger prospects went one-on-one with Krumrie, flailing their arms back and forth to block Krumrie's sparring blows; contorting their arms and body to twist free from Krumrie as he grasped for their forearms and hands, a melodic mix of movements testing an athlete's endurance.

"It just comes from a little bit of a wrestling background. It is mainly to see how they compete," Krumrie said. "See how they handle themselves in a stress situation. Good character check… Are you going to quit or not? That's why I do it."

A state wrestling champion as a prep senior, Barrett said the routine reminded him of a third-period "pummeling", when two wrestlers would grind away at each other.

"I believe it's all mental," Barrett said. "He's a wrestler and he's got that wrestler's mentality. He's trying to push yourself beyond being tired. Which is basically all football and wrestling. So once you get over being tired and realize that you can do whatever you can do as long as you put your mind to it."

The Badgers did not have to fly blind into Krumrie's gauntlet. They had seen him in action three years ago, when he challenged Wendell Bryant to the same routine.

But knowing what is in store and passing this grueling test are far from one in the same.

"We knew about it a week in advance but there's no way to really prepare for that, especially with all the things we did earlier today," said Welsh, referring to the assorted events and position drills that made up the day.

"We watched a couple tapes of previous years and he was just in there attacking," Jefferson said. "You've got to just let it go and be aggressive….I came here preparing for it. You need to be mentally prepared. It's a mental test."

The recent Badgers performed admirably, but all eventually began to fade as Krumrie pounded away.

"It looks like he enjoys it," Jefferson said. "More power to him."

What Krumrie gets out of the drill is a good idea of the type of football player he is dealing with.

"You are looking for character," he said. "See how they compete. See if there's no quit. In this group of guys there is no quit."

"They did a nice job," Krumrie said. "Really competed well and a lot of good character there. That's what you like to see… They all proved themselves very valuable to the NFL."

On tape, Krumrie said, a player can hide here and there, sneaking by with taking a play or two off. Working directly with them one-on-one, however, he can challenge them, testing their resiliency — and there is no place to hide.

"You get them out here, get them isolated 1-on-1, you expose a guy who is going to quit at it," Krumrie said. "None of these guys quit. That's why Wisconsin's having a successful program. They don't quit."

Krumrie, who has been conducting the drill at pro days throughout his decade as an assistant coach, said that he had taken on six prospects in rapid succession on one other occasion — in a visit to Tennessee three years ago.

"You've got to stagger your way," Krumrie said. "I've got a hidden timer in the crowd who when I get to a certain period [waves] at the end of the deal that I kind of shut it off. I know how long I can go."

Krumrie did not show signs of fatigue until just before his sixth challenger, James, stepped in for his turn. Practicing what he preached, Krumrie still went after James aggressively, fending off James counter blows and forcing him to work hard to extricate himself from Krumrie's holds.

"It's mental, you've got to be focused," James said. "In the fourth quarter with two minutes left, you've got to keep fighting. You can't let that offensive lineman get his hands on your chest. You've got to keep working, keep fighting until the game's over."

Hawthorne was not surprised Krumrie could keep going through six such sessions.

"Maybe when I'm his age," Hawthorne said. "That's grown-man strength. He's been doing it forever."

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