Seniors Make It Count

With 16 seniors who have been instrumental in the program's success being honored before Saturday's home finale against Cal Poly, the Badgers' underclassmen were the ones that were responsible for sending the seniors out of Camp Randall on a positive note.

MADISON - About 45 minutes before kickoff on a chilly Saturday afternoon, University of Wisconsin defensive tackle Mike Newkirk went over to the stands next to the Badgers' end zone, and embraced his father, Chris, for a minute. He also got a final few words in with other family members before heading back to warm-ups, with tears in his eyes.

The emotions were mutual for Chris, who stood and wistfully stared out at his son prepare for the final regular season game of his collegiate career.

"He always gives me a little bit of advice, a pep talk before the game," Mike Newkirk said after the Badgers knocked off Cali Poly to finish the regular season 7-5, and the seniors' careers 38-13 with one more bowl game to play.

"It's something that we've been doing ever since high school, and he's able to come down and get close, and it's something that we felt that we wanted to keep going," Newkirk continued. "It's very important to me to be able to do that before I play."

Perhaps lost in the wildness of UW's come-from-behind victory – the second time in as many weeks the Badgers have had to do that in the second half under the Camp Randall Stadium lights – was the emotion felt by 16 Badger seniors who played their final home game Saturday.

"Talking to the other seniors … we knew it was one of our last times playing next to each other," senior right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel said. "The last Jump Around and all that stuff, we tried to enjoy that as much as we could, and it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience for the last game."

The senior class was 25-3 at Camp Randall going into Saturday, and barely survived a scare from the FCS team Cal Poly, needing overtime to finish off the Mustangs.

When kicker Phil Welch's game-winning PAT split the uprights, euphoria struck the Badger sideline.

"I couldn't imagine walking off the field for the last time with a loss under our belts," senior linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "So we'll take it."

It was somewhat fitting that freshman running back John Clay, who talked often during the season about owing this senior class every effort during a disappointing year, scored the winning touchdown in overtime.

"It feels really good, getting them out on Senior Day with a big bang like they deserve," Clay said. "The season didn't go as we wanted it, but I'm glad that we got the opportunity to give them a good farewell."

UW head coach Bret Bielema said at Friday night's team meeting, he introduced each of the seniors and had them stand up in front of all their teammates as a unit, a practice he hadn't done before.

"I realized how many good football players were standing up there and how much good football they've played for us," Bielema said. "To not send them out on a winning note would be a crime we did not want to commit."

Newkirk expressed the joy he has that his family will get to watch him play one more time in the bowl game, but acknowledged how tough it is to never suit up at Camp Randall Stadium again.

"It was nice to be able to share the game with my family, it was something that was kind of bittersweet," Newkirk said. "You're glad they're there, but you don't want it to be over. You know that's what it is after the clock runs down to zero."

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