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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


NFL rests heavily on minds of juniors leading up to bowl game

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The extra practices allotted to the Wisconsin football team in
preparation for its matchup against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl present a
unique situation.

While on the one hand the coaching staff uses the additional
15 practices allowed under NCAA rules to game-plan, scheme and stay sharp with
the starting offensive and defensive units, there is also a careful eye to the
future with the knowledge that not all of the players seeing regular action
will be back the following year.


There are some for whom that is a certainty — namely
outgoing seniors — but in some special cases, it could mean juniors with an eye
on a potential jump from the collegiate ranks to the greener, richer pastures
of the National Football League.

That is the situation facing the Wisconsin coaching staff
this December, as juniors Travis Beckum and Jack Ikegwuonu are weighing their
options with the possibility of leaving school early.

"We joke about it," Ikegwuonu said. "You talk with your
agent, we just joke about it a little bit, but I think being here … it's really
hard not to think about it. But, at the same time, you have to stay focused and
get the job done here. If you don't get it done here, there's going to be
nothing after."

Of the two, Beckum would seem to be the one who, at this
point, would be more appealing to NFL scouts. The tight end is coming off his
second consecutive exceptional season. Despite being named first-team All-Big
Ten this season, Ikegwuonu struggled at times, including in Wisconsin’s final
regular-season game against Minnesota, when Gophers’ wide receiver Eric Decker
— Ikegwuonu’s main responsibility — caught six balls for 125 yards and two

"At some point we’ll talk, but we haven’t talked to him yet
about it," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said of Beckum.

Likewise, the junior tight end has yet to make any decisions
regarding his future.

"That stuff will come," Beckum said. "I am going to send in
and get my draft grade, and after the season sit down and talk to the coaches
and go over that.

"Whatever happens, happens with that."

Two years ago, Beckum was a reserve defensive end coming off
a quiet season in which he played in 10 games but registered only one solo and
one assisted tackle.

Now, just two seasons into a highly successful switch to
tight end, Beckum is in a position to have legitimate reason to consider the

"It’s crazy," Beckum said. "I think in college football you
just need one good year (to open eyes of scouts). If you love the game, good
things are going to come, and I absolutely love it."

While Chryst knew Beckum was a phenomenal athlete, the
success he has enjoyed since moving to tight end still wows the coach.

"He always amazes me," Chryst said. "We should talk about
[the NFL], and it’s a credit to him and the things he’s done."

The things Beckum has done are truly remarkable. In each of
the last two seasons, Beckum has led all Wisconsin receivers in receptions,
total receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and yards per game. His 73 catches
thus far this season are nearly three times more than any other Badger has
hauled in. Beckum's 960 yards receiving and 80-yard-per-game average are also
tops in the country for tight ends.

"I don’t think I really have anything to prove," Beckum
said. "I’ve done what I’ve done and I think I’ve done a good job of helping our
team move the chains and be a threat in certain situations where we needed it."

While Beckum acknowledges room for improvement — "I’ve got
to get better at every aspect of my game" — by returning to school he would
also run the risk of having a down year while adjusting to a new quarterback or
suffering an injury.

"Just me and my family," Beckum said of whom, along with the
coaching staff, will be involved in the decision-making process. "Just in
general, I think looking at what’s best for me, what’s best for my family."

Jack in the box

Beckum and Ikegwuonu should receive their grades well before
the Outback Bowl, but regardless of that, Ikegwuonu says he will make no
decision until after the season.

"I've obviously got another game to play, so that can sway
my decision either way," Ikegwuonu said. "Until the season's over, until after
the bowl game, I'm really in the middle on it. I don't really know what the future

In addition, Ikegwuonu said he will look at factors outside
of his individual play when it finally comes time to make a decision.

"You have to look at guys you're going against, and what the
corner class is going to look like next year," Ikegwuonu said. "There's so many
things that go into it."

When it is all finally said and done, however, Ikegwuonu
will be the one to decide whether he returns to anchor the Wisconsin defensive
backfield for his senior season, or if next season will be spent chasing
professional wide receivers around the field.

"Obviously, I'm the one that's going to have to live with
it," Ikegwuonu said. "So as much as I have to listen to other people, I've got
to follow my heart and do what my heart tells me to do."

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