When the final vote tally saw six fifth-year seniors, offensive linemen Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, tight end Lance Kendricks and quarterback Scott Tolzien on offense and middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean, and strong safety Jay Valai on defense, that had gone about their business the right way, Bielema knew that his team would be in good shape with the abundance of leaders.
"My first year, we have four defensive captains and two offensive captains and that year I remember going into it being worried about the balance and the numbers," said Bielema, referring to the 2001 team that had captains Mark Anelli, Brooks Bollinger, Wendell Bryant, Mike Echols, Nick Greisen and Chad Kuhns. "I really liked how they handled their business and I can see the same thing with this group. Those six guys ran away with the votes and I am very excited to see them set the tone and leadership."
A lot of talk from both Bielema and the captains were about the success that Carimi and Moffitt have had anchoring the left side of Wisconsin's offensive line. There is plenty of experience to go around – Carimi has started 36 games and Moffitt 29 over their careers – but they still care enough to point out to one another when a missed blocking call occurs.
"They squabble all the time," Bielema said. "It's non-stop between those two … I know Moffitt felt one way and Gabe said the other. The best was my strength coach, it was probably 20 minutes later, and Gabe was sitting next to (John) and said, ‘I don't want to start again, but can we go back to that topic?' It was priceless, and we get that offensively and defensively … I think that's a sign of a good team is that they love to compete."
With each player getting to vote for two players on their side of the ball and one player on the opposite side of the ball, Bielema acknowledged that almost all the defensive players voted for St. Jean and Valai, but there were a fair number of votes cast for senior cornerback Niles Brinkley, senior linebacker Blake Sorensen, junior safety Aaron Henry and junior defensive end J.J. Watt. On the offensive side, senior Billy Nagy and junior wide receiver Nick Toon also grabbed some votes.
"It's kind of neat to see the guys see a lot more than just those captains as leaders," Bielema said. "The thing I educated our guys on the day we voted was that it wasn't a popularity contest. It's not a MVP vote about who is the best player. It's about the guys that since you been in this program, you've seen them do the right things, not only on the football field (but) away from the football field, in the weight room. (I) just ask them to think about that when they were voting and I think they did a real nice job."
The voting took place Tuesday and Bielema took the results home for a little reflection of the first time he met each player, seeing as he was directly involved in the recruiting process with each player for the first time as a head coach.
"I remember the first time I saw Culmer St. Jean; I remember the first time John Moffitt walked on campus and going to dinner with his mom and dad on a Saturday night after a game; Gabe Carimi seeing him here in high school camp; Scott Tolzien deciding basically seven days out that we were going to offer him a scholarship; they all have unique stories, but very special because I've been able to witness it all the way through."
Walk-ons Rewarded Sunday
While the captain business was taken care of Wednesday, the coaching staff plans to announce some things on Sunday after Saturday's off day, one of which will be which walk-ons will be earning scholarships. Last year, UW rewarded four players going into their final year of the program. This year, however, there are a couple of younger walk-ons that Bielema identified as having taken advantage of the reps.
"(Redshirt freshman) Jared Abbrederis is really playing at a high level for us at wide receiver, (redshirt freshman) Ethan Hemer at defensive tackle has shown he can play, (redshirt freshman) Ethan Armstrong at the linebacker position, (redshirt junior cornerbacks) Andrew Lukasko and Adam Hampton at the back end have been valuable guys for us on special teams and (redshirt junior) Rob Korslin on offense at the tight end position because of Wozniak getting hurt," Bielema said. "There have been five or six walk-on guys that have definitely showed up."
While all the players are playing their natural position, Abbrederis was brought in two year ago specifically to run the spread option for the scout team offense, much like true freshman Drew McAdams is doing now. With his athleticism, Bielema gave Abbrederis the option of playing safety or wide receiver for a chance to contribute. The results have worked well thus far.
"He's a pretty boy; he wants to stay on offense," Bielema said of Abbrederis. "Now he's got the new number four today and he's got the right look and hopefully, he'll continue to do good things."
Extra Points: Bielema acknowledged that the players that have surprised/impressed him during camp were Sorensen (being able to play all three positions), the development of Beau Allen, Eriks Briedis and Hemer (giving them depth at the defensive line), the success of all four cornerbacks and sophomore Shelton Johnson (giving depth at both positions) … Brad Nortman has developed well in the pooch punt game while Philip Welch and Alec Lerner have been good with their length and hang time on kickoffs … In addition to team captains, Wisconsin also voted on team goals, which will stay in house.