Just Rewards

Having etched his name throughout Wisconsin football's record book, senior kicker Taylor Mehlhaff finally gets recognized for his hard work by earning All-American honors.

MADISON - Taylor Mehlhaff is not a selfish man. Always putting the team's success before his personal achievements, Mehlhaff acts like any upperclassman leader should act.

That doesn't mean that the senior kicker does not get a little upset when things don't go his way. A 2006 Lou Groza semifinalist (given to the nation's top kicker) and a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection, Mehlhaff felt pretty good about improving his numbers from a season ago.

Making a career-best 20 field goals (leading the Big Ten) and 40 of 41 extra points, Mehlhaff was looking to be Wisconsin's first finalist for the Groza award since Vitaly Pisetsky in 1999.

But after missing field goals of 39 and 46 yards inside the Metrodome in Minneapolis to end the season, Mehlhaff failed to advance as an award finalist.

"That game hurt me. I remember walking into the locker room pretty angry at myself," Mehlhaff recalled. "Those were kicks I should have made and did not. There are a lot of good kickers up for (the Groza) that, if you want to win, you can't miss those kinds of kicks."

But despite a miss kick here or there, Mehlhaff has already etched his name into Wisconsin's record books. Currently second on Wisconsin's career scoring list with 290 points, Mehlhaff has made 76 percent of his field goals and is the school's career leader in extra points (143), extra point attempts (146) and extra-point percentages (.979).

"Nobody works harder and is a nicer person than Taylor Mehlhaff," head coach Bret Bielema said. "He is always putting in the hours to stay sharp and has been a huge asset to our program."

Which is why Bielema was thrilled to call Mehlhaff and tell him that, despite being overlooked for the Groza Award, he was being recognized by his peers, as the American Football Coaches Associations (AFCA) selected Mehlhaff to its first-team All-American honor list.

"My first reaction when Coach B told me about it was, ‘Wow, hard work really does pay off,'" Mehlhaff said. "It was nice to finally be rewarded for the amount of work I have put in over the years."

Mehlhaff later was selected to first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches, second-team choice by the media and won the UW's Special Teams Player of the Year Award for the second straight season.

But where Mehlhaff shined in 2007 was in kickoffs, especially with the big change the NCAA made in the offseason.

Before the season began, the NCAA moved the kickoff back five yards, hoping to generate more excitement with kick returns and cut back on the increasing number of kickoffs.

Mehlhaff apparently did not get that message. Wisconsin led the Big Ten in net kickoff average (47.1) and in touchbacks (25), all coming off the foot of Mehlhaff.

With no kicker being close to his stats on kickoffs, it was a surprise to Mehlhaff that he was not a finalist for the Groza until he was informed that the award did not take kickoffs into account.

"They decided on ballot not to take kickoffs in to account for the award," Mehlhaff said. "From that standpoint, the game I had in Minnesota hurt me. It's strictly a field goal award and there are some guys that had good stats out there. So, it is what it is."

But despite the award snub, Mehlhaff was pleased with what he considered the best recognition – being recognized by the people that matter the most in the world of college athletics.

"For this award, the coaches took into account the job I did on kickoffs this year and how important that was," Mehlhaff said. "I feel really good about getting this award because the coaches they recognize the job – both kickoff and field goal wise."

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