Pociask nears summit of productive career

Wisconsin senior tight end will play his last home game Saturday

Leaning on the wall and reflecting on his beginnings as a Badger, tight end Jason Pociask starts to hint at a grin. His eyes gaze forward but not at anyone or anything in particular.

It has been over four years since the Plainfield, Ind. native was handed his redshirt by the University of Wisconsin football program, but less than four days before he runs out of the Camp Randall tunnel for the final time alongside 15 of his senior peers.

Pociask begins to come back to life and here comes that grin. The great sense of humor his teammates talk about emerges. "Kind of a smart-ass," one says. "That's just his personality."

Certainly it has been a while since that freshman year. Pociask thoughtfully attempts to determine an answer along with an evaluation of his own tenure — as if one could actually be expected to re-live five years in just under five seconds. He does. He grins.

"Every year there's some guy that makes a list for every recruiting class — for guys that won't contribute in the program," Pociask says. "He was right on the majority of them."

"And I was on that list," he smiles.

Despite what sabermetric stat-heads and data-crunching fantasy gurus argue, numbers cannot tell you everything. Take for instance Pociask's — 12 and 144. That square-root equation waiting to happen represents the amount of receptions and receiving yards the tight end has accumulated over his entire Badger career.

One might look at those numbers on a stat sheet or a press release, or one might not. Either way, they are not the numbers memories are made from.

Breathing gridiron air as the son and later student of a line coach, Pociask is bred to think like a lineman in many respects.

"My dad was always one of the guys that said ‘you may not have your name in the paper but you're just as important if not more so'," Pociask said. "You wouldn't be able to do much without a running game. My dad has been right there constantly encouraging me about my blocking and telling me the catches will come."

This part of the plot is nothing new — the story of unappreciated linemen, only called by name when they mess up, never thanked when they succeed. It is perhaps even more rare to properly acknowledge the tight ends playing a similar role, sealing off defensive ends and allowing a ground game to thrive.

Maybe numbers are appropriate after all — numbers like 1,671 and 27. Those are the respective yards and touchdowns Wisconsin has gained on the ground this season. According to the offensive linemen, that production could not occur without Pociask's assistance.

"It's so huge in our offense," said junior left tackle Joe Thomas, a Sports Illustrated midseason All-American. "It's one of the most important blocks that happens because a lot of times on our outside plays and even on some of our inside plays, the tight end is going to go one-on-one with the defensive end, who is a lot of times bigger than him."

"(Pociask) is the guy who sort of sets the edge on a lot of our outside plays," he added. "If he doesn't make the block, the play is for naught. It's going to be dead and stopped for a loss."

After playing mostly on special teams as a redshirt freshman, Pociask has appeared at tight end in nearly every game the past three years. He has made 12 starts over that time, most notably of late after another senior, Owen Daniels, went down with an ankle injury.

The added playing time, in addition to his natural progression as a route runner, has spelled more involvement for Pociask in the passing game this season. Although coaches say Pociask possesses great hands of his own and runs the 40-yard-dash just a shade slower than Daniels, he says he gets a lot of his route running from watching the way Daniels, a converted-quarterback, uses his athleticism to set up and get out of his breaks.

"It's more me observing him," Pociask said. "I think he knows I watch him. Whether he watches me block or not, I don't know. But it would be nice if he did."

Asked to reveal himself later, Daniels bashfully smiles that trademark smile he never seems to lose during the entire time he speaks. He praised Pociask, particularly regarding his fundamentals and his footwork, which Daniels says he has worked hard to try to match.

Daniels emphasized the importance of footwork at the position, in terms of blocking. Usually a matter of inches will make the difference between a solid block and a tackle in the backfield.

"I don't think people realize — if you're not a coach or you don't watch the game film or whatever — that he is a really solid blocker," Daniels said. "He's done that for the last couple years he's been playing. I definitely look up to him in that respect."

In reality, upon scanning the names of 2005 seniors, one would be hard-pressed to find traditional superstars. There are plenty of names with what Pociask calls "star power" — he points out Daniels and receivers Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr as examples. He notes, though, that the young men being honored Saturday against Iowa do not possess "national names."

The team gets things done, however. Few outside the locker room predicted a Big Ten title hunt or a potential 10-win season out of this team. Many said it would be a rough year. Pociask agrees it could have been if not for how tight their class has become.

"I think we play together more," he said. "Not that other classes in the past haven't. But I feel that we've got a tight class. We lost a lot of good players last year but I think we really pulled together and emphasized that to the younger guys who have really done a good job stepping up as well."

Pociask epitomizes a perhaps nationally nameless but markedly successful senior class — one that is 32-17 over the past four seasons. Pociask battles week-in and week-out. When asked about his endurance following a 77-play performance at Northwestern, not including special teams plays, that earned him co-offensive player of the week, he mentions a sense of loyalty.

Pociask said he felt he owed it to the program to volunteer for the units that gave him his start. Perhaps it was not the sign of a "national name", but how is that for "tight"?

One game remains now for Pociask and the senior class to cement their Camp Randall legacy. They have yet to lose here as upperclassmen — their 11-game home winning streak extending back to Iowa's last visit to Madison in 2003.

"It's hard to even comprehend right now," Pociask said. "I really don't think it's going to hit me until I'm in the game, or hopefully afterwards, so I'm not thinking about it."

Getting back to those beginnings: Saturday will be the latest in a long line of memorable moments for this fifth-year senior, just three games and three credits shy of closing out his time at UW.

"It's hard to even name a best memory," Pociask said. "Definitely, Michigan this year is up there, as is beating Minnesota at Minnesota. We hadn't done that since I've been up here. Ohio State last year and the year before, Purdue last year, you can go on and on. It's hard to name just one…

"Just going from being the unknown recruit to being a four-year letterman and getting a lot of starts, especially this year — it's been great."

Discussing those three credits, which will wrap up a kinesiology degree and perhaps lead to graduate school after his days in football are through, the grin returns again. Pociask, a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, takes just one class, two days a week.

"I couldn't have planned it any better," he laughed. "I didn't even plan it. It just sort of ended up like that."

When it comes to Pociask's career on the football field, that guy with the list would likely agree.

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