For years, University of Wisconsin football has been based on a power running attack. And while backs like Brent Moss, Ron Dayne and P.J. Hill get most of the credit, UW offensive linemen have earned the reputation of being among the most NFL-ready in the draft.
Four-year starter Kraig Urbik is no different. When the Pittsburgh Steelers picked the 6-foot-5 Wisconsin guard in the third round Sunday, they believed they were getting the player most likely to aid their team right away.
“This kid understands football,” Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians told reporters in Pittsburgh. “He’s a big physical guy that we think can play guard or tackle. We’ll stick the ball between his legs and see if he can do that too, so he has the ability to dress on Sunday and be a guy that could possibly be a three-position player for us.”
After starting at tackle as a freshman, the Hudson, Wis., native shifted to right guard, where he earned 2008 first team All-American honors from ESPN.com.
It was his senior season — despite the knee injury suffered versus Penn State — as a Badger that Urbik saw as being one of the crucial elements for his NFL Draft preparation.
“The draft is really something I’ve been working towards all season … just through honing my game and my skills,” he said. “Scouts want to see that you continue to improve as a senior and have a strong senior year.”
The next step for Urbik was the Senior Bowl in January, where he was a member of the North team coached by Cincinnati Bengals assistant coach Paul Alexander.
Three months prior to the draft, Alexander’s assessment of Urbik was similar to that of Arians and the Steelers.
“He’s not the type of guy where it’s going to take him a long time to learn the game,” Alexander told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He’s going to get as good as he’s going to be pretty quickly early in his career because he really has a natural aptitude for it. And his fundamentals are sound.”
Following the Senior Bowl, Urbik continued to work out, including participating in workouts at the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Day in March, where he performed well in front of NFL scouts.
But with so much building up to draft day, Urbik was eager this week to put the draft behind him and get started with his NFL career.
“I really just want [the draft] to get here and be done with,” Urbik said last Friday. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to since I began my career and waiting for a long time for, so I’m pretty excited.”
As a projected third-round pick in the draft, Urbik was not one of the few collegiate prospects invited to the draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
In fact, his original plans didn’t even include watching the draft on television.
“I was planning on going out and golfing a bit and just relaxing, but it’s supposed to rain in Hudson on Saturday so I’m not sure that will happen,” Urbik said. “Instead, I think I’ll just spend some time with family and friends and just keep everything real laid-back.”
After not having his name called in the first two rounds of the draft Saturday, Urbik did watch the draft Sunday with family and friends at his parents’ home in Hudson.
When Urbik finally received the call from the Steelers as the 15th pick in the 3rd round, his goal of reaching the NFL had finally been accomplished. Not only was he selected in the NFL draft, but Urbik also received the opportunity to play for the defending champs, who have won more Super Bowl titles (six) than any other team.
“To be picked by the Steelers, I just feel really grateful and honored to be a part of such a great franchise,” he said. “And I’m going to a great city in Pittsburgh, so I’m just really looking forward to all of it.”
Urbik was not, however, the first former Wisconsin player chosen in this weekend’s draft. His former teammates Matt Shaughnessy and DeAndre Levy were each selected in the third round as the 7th and 12th picks, respectively.
After hearing Shaughnessy’s name called, Urbik sent a message to the Norwich, Conn., native. Now, after spending the past four years as teammates, the former Badgers will be heading their separate ways when they report to their respective teams this week.
“I was texting Matt Shaughnessy because he was the first Badger taken. He sounded pretty excited too,” Urbik said. “But, I don’t think any of us will be getting together anytime soon. We’re all doing our own things and I know I won’t be back in Madison any time soon.”
The next step for the former Badger guard is the Steelers’ rookie minicamp. It’s there that he will get his first opportunity to practice with his fellow rookies as a member of the Steelers organization.
Still, as he moves on to the next level, Urbik is careful not to forget those who have cheered for him as he helped anchor the Badgers’ potent rushing attack.
“I’m just really excited and now I’m really looking forward to this weekend,” he said. “And I’d like to thank all the Badger fans and all of those that supported us over the last five years.”