On the field, Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt were two of the best offensive linemen in the country.
They also happened to be just as good off of it.
Carimi protected Scott Tolzien’s blind side at left tackle for the Badgers and received the Outland Trophy — given annually to the best lineman — for his masterful 2010 season.
Moffitt was equally effective at left guard and he joined Carimi on the Associated Press All-American team.
Those two senior captains anchored the University of Wisconsin offensive line and were two of the best leaders to come through the program.
They were vocal when they had to be. They constantly studied their craft with extra hours in the film room. They knew how to lighten the mood when appropriate and they knew when it was necessary to call someone out.
They led by example and they commanded their teammates’ respect.
But now, they’re off to the NFL, and they need to be replaced.
Ricky Wagner will slide over to take Carimi’s spot at left tackle and Travis Frederick will step in for Moffitt at left guard, but where will the leadership come from?
Who will step up and fill that massive void?
Look no further than center Peter Konz.
“I feel like that responsibility is now placed on me, as it should be,” Konz said. “I’ve seen a lot of games. I’m supposed to be the quarterback of the O-line and I need to be better at that.”
Konz has all the tools necessary to become the next elite Badger lineman.
He’s played in 21 games and started 20 of them. He has tremendous mobility for a 6-foot-6, 315-pound center, making him a force in the run game, pulling from side to side to pave the way.
His quick feet make him a reliable pass protector and his quick mind (two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection) helps to diagnose blitzes.
Konz was a consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection and he’ll be widely considered one of the top centers in the nation heading into the 2011 season.
He’s confident in his abilities to play at the high level expected of him, but Konz knows he needs to grow as a leader.
With Moffitt and Carimi gone, his role on this team has undeniably changed.
“Oh yeah, it’s changed. I try to call out more of the defensive stuff. I have to be more of a vocal guy,” Konz said. “Before, I would just sit back and if something was going wrong, Moffitt or Gabe or both of them would step in and say, ‘Hey, we need to fix this.’ If there was a blitz that I didn’t see, then it was Gabe or Moff saying what we’ve got.”
As the center, Konz has the responsibility of calling out assignments at the line of scrimmage, but last year Moffitt and Carimi were the vocal ones and they often had the final say before the ball was snapped.
“If I made a call, sometimes they would feel that they could override it — sometimes it wouldn’t work and sometimes it did,” Konz said. “It was a little uncomfortable making calls because it was like, ‘Do I have all this say?’. But those guys did a good job respecting what I had to do.”
Konz is running the show now, and will be the definitive voice of the O-line from his center position. Knowing blocking assignments and calling out oncoming blitzes is something he’s comfortable with, but that’s just one part of the job.
The hard part for the redshirt junior now comes when things go wrong, when his teammates make mistakes and need to be told what to do.
At times, Konz, who is known for his engaging demeanor and humorous nature, needs to be a disciplinarian. That hasn’t been easy.
“A lot of times I’ll be quiet just because I don’t like telling guys what to do. Sometimes you need to be an asshole — I’m terrible at that,” Konz said. “But I can promise you if I don’t do that, then its not going to be a good season.”
Konz won’t allow foolish mistakes to reoccur time and time again in practice. Earlier in the spring, the centers were taking part in a snapping drill in which numerous balls hit the ground.
Centers simply cannot afford fumbled snaps and Konz felt he needed to step in.
So he made everyone start over.
“We snapped and I made everybody go back and do it again and I hate doing that. I know no one is trying to purposely fumble the ball. … We have a bunch of new centers but it’s getting to the point where it’s every day and I had to say something,” Konz explained. “I know I’ve been there. I’ve been the one fumbling and making mistakes, so for me to call guys out is just tough.
“But if we want to win, that is what has to happen.”
Konz recently suffered a high ankle sprain in practice, so he’ll be in street clothes for the remainder of spring camp. But he’s out there on the field, watching every drill closely, delivering pointers to his teammates.
He’s slowly transforming himself into the vocal leader in the trenches his offense needs — even if it means leaving his comfort zone to do it.
“I know I can do it, and if I didn’t, I would be hurting the team,” Konz said. “Good teams always have those leaders stepping up and now it’s on me to do that.”