Whether it was a great catch, a great pass or a great tackle, a great play is burned into our memory forever. The will of the athlete to go above and beyond for the betterment of the team on a single play makes players into legends.
Jack Ikegwuonu made one of those plays.
In the opening drive of the 2007 Capital One Bowl, Heisman Finalists Darren McFadden used his shear speed to break through the Wisconsin secondary in what looked to be a sure touchdown. Never quitting on the play, Ikegwuonu caught up to McFadden, who was widely considered the fastest man in the SEC, and tackled him before he could get close to the goal line. It was a play that made the season, as the Wisconsin defense held Arkansas to a three-and-out and a missed field goal. Wisconsin went on to win the game 17-14, but the talk after the game was about Ikegwuonu's play.
"I know McFadden is a very fast football player," Bielema said afterwards. "For Jack to track and pull him down to put us in possession to have success, it changed the whole landscape of the game. That play will be ingrained through winter, spring and fall camp. That one play could have effected this entire year."
Bielema has been a man of his word. Hauling out a highlight tape of last year's team at the first fall meeting, Jack's tackle was the very first highlight shown in the meeting and, according to Bielema, certainly created a stir among the younger players.
Between covering Wisconsin's top receivers and impressing NFL scouts, Jack Ikegwuonu sat down with Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull to talk about the play, the defense and his new leadership role.
Badger Nation: John Elway had ‘the drive,' Dwight Clark had ‘the catch' and you had ‘the tackle.' Take me through that whole sequence of running down McFadden.
Jack Ikegwuonu: I didn't want to trip (laughing). I saw him break through the line and I was on the far corner. I knew that if they [Arkansas] scored right away [on its first drive] that it would be a blow to our confidence. I knew I had to catch him, so I just put my head down and ran as fast as I could.
BN: Coach Bielema showed that clip in the first team meeting. What does it mean to have that clip be the highlight of last season for this team?
Ike: It shows what hard work and determination can achieve. There aren't a lot of people faster than him [McFadden] and I caught him somehow. It's great for the younger players to see that no matter what, you're never out of a play. With all the success we had, that [tackle] is a great memory that will stick out.
BN: With the departures of Joe Stellmacher, Roderick Rogers and Mark Zalewski, are you going to have to assume the leadership role on the defensive unit?
Ike: It's my time to take that role. Coming into my fourth year here, I should be a leader on this defense by now. I've learned from so many guys in the past how to be a good leader and that's what I want to be. It's a special experience and a special opportunity to be able to be considered a leader of any kind of team. Whether it's a college football or any avenue of life, it's special. I am really going to take it as a blessing and that's the way I look at. Hopefully, the rest of our teammates look at me as a leader in the defensive backfield and feel comfortable coming to me with whatever they need.
BN: How seriously do you take your leadership role on the team? What does leadership mean to you and what does that role mean to you?
Ike: When other people recognize you as a leader, that's when the leadership role gets to be put on. I hope that my teammates really look at me as a leader. I want to lead by example. I'm not the biggest talker. Obviously when the game day hits, there's a level of adrenaline. Normally, I am a pretty quiet guy but I like to come onto the field and show to the young guys and my peers what it means to work hard. I hope we can all learn from each other. Hopefully in the future, all my actions, on the field and off the field, will mean something. Being a leader means others can confide in you and ask questions.
BN: Everybody knows that you are an NFL prospect. Do you feel you need to get yourself into a physical and mental state this summer in order to be at the level of preparation to make the next step?
Ike My mindset is always to fulfill expectations that people have for me. The expectations people have for me this year and for myself, I definitely took a different approach this summer. I am not saying that my approach has changed drastically. I definitely looked at the summer as a building block to the season and getting myself physically and mentally where I want to be. I think the most important time for me right now is these next two weeks [of practice] right here. Learning from myself and really taking the coaching from Coach Crooks has really kept me in perspective. He's trying to make sure that I don't think about the NFL stuff. My job is here now, to help this team win, and that's what I want to do.
Ike Definitely. Definitely. Those guys have been in the program awhile. They know the defense, know what's going on around here, how we do things and how to win. Allen Langford and I have started the path and we're looking for two guys to step in. The competition for safety is still going on, as it is for every position. With the practices we're going to have – we have 20 some practices left – we're going to have time to start to gel. By the time we hit Washington State, we'll be a cohesive unit.