CHICAGO — In the spring of 2004, Joe Thomas broke school records for left tackles in the hang clean (360 pounds), vertical jump (32.5 inches) and 40-yard dash (4.93 seconds).
Last spring, Thomas, one of three University of Wisconsin football players to take part in the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon here Tuesday, broke those three records and two more. He now holds the UW mark for left tackles in five of the six events the Badgers are tested on in the course of their strength and conditioning workouts.
About a week before spring practices, Thomas was timed at 4.87 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 4.38 seconds in the pro agility run. Following spring football, Thomas posted 405 pounds on the hang clean, 620 on the squat and a 33 1/2-inch vertical. The only measure where he is short of the school record is in the bench press, where his 410 is well shy of Chris McIntosh's 480.
"To have my face on the whole row would be pretty cool but 70 pounds increase in the bench in one year is a lot, especially when you are talking over 400 pounds," Thomas said.
Sixth lineman or running back?
It is not uncommon for Matt Bernstein, Wisconsin's 265-pound battering ram of a fullback, to be referred to as yet another lineman on the field. But Bernstein has also proven that he can run and catch, especially in his much ballyhooed performance against Penn State last season, when he rushed for 120 yards in the second half to lead the Badgers to a 16-3 victory.
"He's an offensive lineman," Thomas said with a grin. "We always invite him to offensive line barbeques and stuff. He's a big guy. They just gave him the ball that one game on accident."
When told Thomas referred to him as part of the offensive line, Bernstein laughed good naturedly.
"I don't like Joe anymore," he said with a smile. "I used to joke around and say I'm a tailback in a lineman's body. I like food, I like eating, I like good stuff. It's tough for me to lose some weight. But this season I'm going to try to do it.
"I don't think I'm a guard yet. Even though me and Joe have the same 40 time. That kid's a freak though. Shake his hand. He'll crush it."
Thomas has his share of weight room records, but the strongest player on the Badgers' roster, according to Bernstein and Thomas, is reserve fullback Chris Pressley.
"Pressley is just the strongest kid on the team by far," Bernstein said. "He'll break every record at Wisconsin for weight lifting. He is a sick human being."
How much weight does Pressley lift?
"I know he squats 700 pounds," Thomas said. "Benched 440."
Thomas, who squats 620 pounds, has an idea of what lifting that much weight feels like.
"It's painful," he said. "It's so hard on your back, most of all your spine and muscles and your legs and your knees. It's tough on you. That's why we don't do it except for right at the end of the training session."
Bernstein could not remember exactly what Pressley puts on the bar.
"I wouldn't even look at that weight," he said. "All I know is he does a lot more than me when we're doing reps. And I do some heavy weight too.
"He broke my squat record (for fullbacks) this year. I think he did 500 seven times."
According to Thomas, the Badgers' weight training regimen for the past week focused on three sets with weight appropriate for three reps, then two reps and concluding with a single rep.
"I do reps at 500," Thomas said. "I'm sure [Pressley's] at 575."
"It's amazing because we're in the weight room and no matter what you put on the bar, he does it just like that," Thomas added. "And every week our strength coach just keeps adding weight and weight and weight. You can't make anything tough for him. It's unbelievable. He's like a rock."
Pressley rushed for 36 yards on 11 carries while playing tailback last season. He has since converted to fullback and will compete with redshirt freshman Bill Rentmeester for the No. 2 spot behind Bernstein.
The Badgers concluded their offseason conditioning program Tuesday morning in Madison, so the three players who attending the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon — Thomas, Bernstein and corner Brett Bell — had to pack in a couple workouts before visiting Chicago.
"We did Monday's and Tuesday's workout at 5 a.m. (Monday) before we came here," Thomas said. "It was pretty brutal."