After practice, he is sweaty and exhausted. His jersey is soaked. His taped hands, raw. His once shiny white helmet bears a plethora of scuff marks in more colors than he could count with his two massive hands.
If the diversity of colors were meant to represent the variety of roles redshirt senior Bill Nagy has held, it would be a fitting metaphor.
Nagy, who has played in all eight games this season and started six of them, has played right guard, tight end and center in his playing career as a Badger. In Sunday’s win over Iowa, he filled in at center in the second half for redshirt sophomore Peter Konz, who left the game due to injury and didn’t return after the first half.
Despite his need to frequently adjust to different positions, Nagy isn’t fazed by his responsibilities.
“I was ready to go. It’s just something we practice and prepare for everyday…Whenever your number is called, you have to be ready to seize the opportunity,” Nagy said.
He also noted that, to him, the positions of center and guard are essentially the same. Playing tight end, however, is different due to the difference in play calls.
Nagy has been filling in where needed since his sophomore year two seasons ago. After redshirting his freshman year, he stepped up at right guard for John Moffitt against Minnesota. In the following season, he replaced injured players on two occasions at right guard in addition to starting three games. Last season, he missed all but three games due to injury.
After starting the first four games of this season at right guard, Nagy lost his spot in the starting lineup to Kevin Zeitler, but he was utilized as a tight end in the jumbo package in the Michigan State game and played against Ohio State and Minnesota. He also contributed at this position in the Iowa game before substituting for the injured Konz at center.
Serving as a utilitarian, flex player as opposed to habituating oneself to a fixed position would understandably be frustrating for many players. Nagy, however, embraces his role whole-heartedly.
“I just enjoy playing football at whatever position it may be, whether it’s guard, center, or tight end,” Nagy said.
Nagy’s attitude and approach to his role are certainly not lost on his fellow players.
“Bill did a phenomenal job of stepping in. He’s a huge part of this team…An offensive lineman should be tough, selfless and disciplined, and he exemplifies all three [of these traits],” quarterback Scott Tolzien said.
Tolzien, who was challenged by taking snaps from two different centers over the course of one game, explained that there should never be a “panic situation” in a game. The Konz-to-Nagy transition was made smoothly, he explained, because of the way the team practices over the course of the week.
Moffitt, UW’s starting left guard, also a redshirt senior, has some experience playing center in his career as well, and he praised Nagy for his poise and competence.
“Bill played a clean game; he wasn’t fazed at all,” Moffitt said.
What especially impressed Moffitt is that Nagy took only 40 percent of the reps at center in the week leading up to Saturday’s game, yet still delivered.
“The blocking is a little different [compared to other positions on the offensive line]. You have to know what you’re doing schematically,” Moffitt said. “You’re making the calls, and Bill did an awesome job at that.”
Even coach Bret Bielema acknowledged the impact Nagy’s play had on his team.
“Billy Nagy pops in, takes off the tight end jersey number and steps in there. Unbelievable, selfless act to give us that win,” Bielema said after the Iowa game.
Selflessness is paramount to having success for a player in Nagy’s situation. Nagy acknowledges his value on the team as a utility player, and instead of worrying about more stable playing time, the senior embraces his opportunities to contribute.
“He’s really mature about the way he plays and handles his business,” Moffitt said. “He doesn’t make excuses.”
“That’s my role, and I’m doing whatever I can to help the team win,” Nagy said.