Big Shoes To Fill

After being ranked the top offensive lineman in the country by Scout, St. Francis left tackle Josh Oglesby committed to Wisconsin, turning down other national powerhouses universities, in order to follow the great accomplishments of Badger legend Joe Thomas. Badger Nation's Jeff Grimyser recently spoke with the Army All-American Bowl invitee about his journey to UW.

One might argue that the biggest piece of the puzzle Wisconsin head coach Brett Bielema needed to replace for next year was Outland Trophy Winner Joe Thomas. After the Badgers had a 12-1 season and won the Capitol One Bowl, the last thing they could afford was to allow Thomas' giant spot on the offensive line and role as leader to go un-replaced. Bielema hoped to ease the transition when he signed 6-9 325-pound left tackle Josh Oglesby.

The St. Francis native will try to prove that any comparison is legit. Both Thomas and Oglesby are towering figures, humble and students of the game. They understand that even though they have tremendous physical tools, only hard work will determine what kind of success they achieve. Each of these men believes team goals are the most important.

The two men met a few months ago while Thomas dominated at Wisconsin. Oglesby asked him to sign a piece of memorabilia saying, "from the greatest lineman ever, Joe." Being the modest player that he is, Thomas instead gave it back to Oglesby with the inscription, "to the greatest lineman ever, Joe."

"It was one of the best things that ever happened to me," Oglesby said. "He's so humble at knowing how good he is."

Oglesby's parents teach him that same level of humility. His family always warns him that God can take away anything that he gave to you. Oglesby believes in this idea because of his personal experiences.

During his senior year, Oglesby injured his right knee badly while playing on the defensive line. Two players were blocking him and someone fell on his knee, which caused it to bend in an awkward fashion. Knowing the game's importance, Oglesby continued to play in the game - not knowing that he had just torn his ACL. In the second half, a team authority told him he couldn't return and his season was over. From that point on, he spent the remaining games on the sideline and watched his team play without him.

"I think [sitting out] was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Oglesby said. "It's a whole hell of a lot harder to watch from the sidelines than it is to play, especially when you see your team struggling at certain points."

His doctors predicted a 36-week recovery period for his type of ACL surgery, but Oglesby hoped to be ready to play much sooner than that. He had already begun doing drills, some as long as two hours a day, to assure that he would be healthy when called upon next year. Ironically, this was the same work ethic that Thomas needed after he injured his knee when he played defense in the Capitol One Bowl game two years ago. In Oglesby's case, he never believed for a second that his career or knee were in serious jeopardy.

"My knee is doing very well, I actually spoke to two doctors this weekend and it's excellent." Oglesby explained his recovery schedule is "actually a little ahead."

At Wisconsin, Thomas dominated his competition by such a large degree that he looked like a man among boys. In a high school with 500 kids, Oglesby also seemed out of place on the field because of his immense talents and massive size.

"People who play the game know that the low man wins," Oglesby said of the height difference. "It takes some adjusting. My coaches taught me very well how to stay low."

Competing against players so much smaller than him might have helped Oglesby further develop his skills. He estimates that his high school team ran nearly 98 percent of the time. Because his team ran so frequently, his run blocking has become a strength. Yet, Oglesby knows his pass blocking needs to improve at the next level because he rarely had to pass protect in high school.

"What I need to do is learn how to let the defense come to me on a pass-blocking situation because I'm so aggressive and I just like to attack," Oglesby said. "The pass block is more of passive technique."

His run blocking talents might help him immediately transition from playing in high school to playing at Wisconsin, a traditionally run-heavy school. Oglesby will be even more comfortable with Bielema's schemes because his high school coach ran an offense based loosely off the Badgers.

Being rated so highly at such a young age, Oglesby understands that he has a chance to become a special player. He was invited to play in the 2007 US Army All-American Bowl Game and is rated as one of the top lineman across every publication's ranking board.

With nearly every scouting publication rating him as a surefire talent at left tackle, Oglesby tries to avoid the hype as much as possible, relying on the lessons his family taught him - let his game speak for itself.

"I have a lot of people in my life who keep me humble," Oglesby said. "My mother taught me at a young age that humility is the best thing, as people will like you more if don't talk about yourself as much."

"Me and my dad like to go fishing, which helps keep things in perspective [for me]," Oglesby added, although he claimed to have a much goofier side. "I'm actually a pretty avid Frisbee-golf player and I'm pretty good at it too. I guess that‘s pretty interesting, a 6'9" 300 pound black man who Frolfs."

Everything in Oglesby's life was not always as comical. The reason he began to play football was because as a child in grade school, his parents were concerned that he had anger management issues. They couldn't figure out why or what to do, so they decided the best way for him to alleviate that aggression was to play football. It didn't work out so great at first.

"After my first week of practice I would come home and talk about how much I hated it," Oglesby recalled. "I never wanted to go back out there and then my dad told me to stick with it for one more year."

After conversations with his father, Oglesby decided to continue playing. One of the reasons he couldn't give up football was because his dad told him the family had never quit at anything before, so neither could he. Consequently, Oglesby decided to dedicate himself more avidly to football.

"At first I figured it would be easy, but after I went to practice I realized I hated it," Oglesby said. "After a year he couldn't pull me away from it. I ate it and I slept it ever since."

His dream while playing football as a child was not to become a great left tackle, but instead to be the next Brett Favre. According to Oglesby, the Green Bay quarterback is the unquestioned leader on his team because all the Packers look to him in times of despair. Even when he was hurt, Oglesby was the leader of his high school team.

"I try to lead by example, be the first one in the weight room, the last one to leave and the first one on the practice field." Oglesby explained, "I tried to keep our guys fired up as much as I could, told them they didn't need me to win the game. You need all 11 people out there to win. Keeping them encouraged, telling them to forget about the bad plays."

Oglesby had to keep his team confident after St. Francis's disappointing season. First, they got blown out in three of the four games that Oglesby played in. Then, when he couldn't participate, they lost during the first round of the playoffs.

As team captain, Oglesby had to make sure his team kept a positive outlook after their losses. He chose to lead the freshmen because they were new and didn't understand what it takes to work as a team. It's going to be very different next year when he is the true freshman at Wisconsin.

Oglesby will adapt to his new team because that's what he's always done, always giving full effort in everything the coaches asked of him - including playing defensive tackle. Oglesby had great success playing on the opposite side of the line, racking up 22 tackles and five sacks in a little over three and half games. He could have been recruited as a defensive player with those great statistics, but after playing defense in high school, he has second thoughts.

"I guess I would if they asked me too," Oglesby said about his future at playing defensive tackle. "I despise d-lineman ever since I played tackle. I couldn't stand being one of them."

Both Thomas and Oglesby played a position other than left tackle because they're both unselfish. This desire to help the team win is why Wisconsin recruited Oglesby. If you were to ask him, they didn't really have to try that hard.

"You can't really argue with their success rate," Oglesby said about Wisconsin. "It's a top five academic school in the country. I wanted to come [to Wisconsin] even more to be a part of such a great tradition and to be on possibly one of the great teams. Other than the Packers, Wisconsin is known for beer and Badgers."

It's not that other universities didn't attempt to recruit him, as the teams that tried were a who's who of college football powerhouses: USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida State, and Ohio State all fought with Wisconsin to sign him. Those teams were already at a disadvantage before they even studied a single tape.

"Me and my dad were real honest with all of them that they had to beat out Wisconsin," Oglesby recalled. "Wisconsin was my number one and you would have to take that spot. Did it come close at times? Yes, it did. But eventually I knew I was going to choose Wisconsin."

One of the main reasons Oglesby chose Wisconsin was because of the great respect he had for the Badger's success in the past 15 years. Their run as one of the top Big Ten Teams begins with legendary coach and current Director of Athletics, Barry Alvarez, who impressed Oglesby with his recruitment.

"He could do whatever he wants in the state because of how great a person and coach he is," Oglesby said. "For him to remember my name, as well as my parents, I thought was amazing."

Oglesby will be just as excited suiting up for his future coach next fall. After meeting with Bielema and his coaches many times, Oglesby feels great respect for the staff that will soon be coaching him. The freshman-to-be respects Bielema's demeanor and appreciates that their ages are closer than the typical player-coach relationship.

"I couldn't see myself playing for another coach," Oglesby added. "His personality almost matches mine. Not only does he have the respect of his players, but then there's a time where you can go to him and he's your friend. He's more than just a coach. I'm just happy to be able to play under him and just give him my all to get him to the next level."

Winning a National Championship is the next goal that Wisconsin hopes to achieve. Last year, the Badgers were not considered to compete in the championship game because of an NCAA rule that prevents two teams in the same conference from playing.

After the seventh ranked Badgers defeated the 12th ranked Arkansas Razorbacks 17-14 in last year's Capitol One Bowl, the team is presumably due for a top spot in the upcoming preseason BCS Rankings and, with a challenging schedule, will have a chance to play for the national title.

"It helps my dream come true of getting a national championship," Oglesby said of coming to a team that's already been successful. "Wisconsin should be recognized as a national power. They're a much better program than people give them credit for. I definitely think we can play with those so-called bigger teams. People say that the Big Ten is a weaker conference, but they obviously don't know the games as well as they think."

Expectations that other people have don't concern Oglesby because he is confident in his skills and capabilities. In fact, Oglesby hopes to not only become the next great college lineman, but hopes to go to where Thomas is heading. While the NFL may just be a dream at this point, it is on his mind.

"My ultimate dream is to play in the NFL," Oglesby said. "I would love to be a part of that amazing tradition and lifestyle, as I think football is the greatest game that there is. It's the greatest level of professional sports."

Playing for Wisconsin might allow him the opportunity to play in the NFL someday, but it also provides him with the opportunity to receive an education. Oglesby promised his mother that one day he would earn his degree, even if he enters the NFL draft early after his junior year at Wisconsin.

Education isn't the only reason Oglesby chose to become a Badger. He believes playing football and graduating from Wisconsin with a degree in communication will improve his prospects of becoming a football analyst.

"I would love to be the next Lee Corso." Oglesby explained. "I love to talk number one and I love to talk football. I'd be playing at a top ranked football team and graduating from a top ranked school."

All of these goals are possible if he achieves the success of Thomas. Oglesby hopes that following his idol's steps at Wisconsin will be a symbolic passing of the torch between great linemen, but he could further that link between them. If Thomas and Wisconsin would allow it to happen, Oglesby would like to wear the same number as Thomas.

"It would also be an honor to wear number 72," Oglesby said.

With the success of Thomas, Oglesby has some high standards to live up to and some big shoes to fill, which is one of the main reasons he came to UW. Although it would have been much easier to go somewhere else that had low expectations placed on him, Oglesby picked Wisconsin because of their great success and Thomas legacy.

"I definitely wish to replace him," Oglesby said. "I don't know if I can fill his shoes. It's definitely something I'm going to have to work for. I mean he's the best offensive lineman in the country. I like the way he commands the game and dominates his side of the ball."

Oglesby will try to emulate Thomas as an offensive lineman, team leader and person. These goals are part of Oglesby's plans when he finally suits up for Wisconsin on Saturdays. Oglesby will probably meet up again with his idol someday because of their connection and similarities.

In the conversation between Thomas and Oglesby, only time will tell who will claim that the other is the greatest lineman ever.

Badger Nation Top Stories