Over the years, many of Wisconsin’s athletes have moved on to productive careers in professional sports. With so many prominent Badgers making a living at the next level, you’re sure to recognize many of the players in this list. Well-represented in all four major sports, let’s take a look at former Badgers that are making their mark on the professional world of athletics.
J.J. Watt (DE, Houston Texans) — Years Played at Wisconsin: 2009-2010
In his nine seasons in the NFL, Watt has established himself as one of the most dominant defensive players in recent memory. Watt has a variety of skills that allow him to line up in a handful of defensive positions, making it difficult for opponents to game plan against him. During his career, Watt has racked up numerous individual awards including five Pro Bowl appearances and three Defensive Player of the Year awards — the most among active NFL players. Destined for a spot in Canton once his career is over, Watt still searches for one prize that eludes him — a Super Bowl ring. Only time will tell if he achieves the ultimate team goal.
Watt’s time at Wisconsin was limited following his freshman season at Central Michigan and his early departure for the NFL. Yet Badger fans will remember his crucial contributions during the famous upset of the then No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall.
T.J. Watt (OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers) — Years Played at Wisconsin: 2015-2016
T.J. is the youngest of three Watt brothers and looks to be following in his older brother J.J.’s footsteps as one of the league’s premier pass rushers. After being selected in the first round in the 2017 NFL draft, Watt has lived up to expectations, collecting 34.5 sacks in three seasons with the Steelers. This past year, Watt was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl and at only age 25, it appears Watt will wreak havoc for opposing quarterbacks for years to come.
During his time with the Badgers, Watt underwent a lengthy transition to offensive linebacker following his original recruitment as a tight end. Despite multiple injuries and learning curves along the way, Wisconsin continued its long tradition of crafting NFL-caliber linebackers and developed Watt into a tour de force in the NFL.
Russell Wilson (QB, Seattle Seahawks) — Years Played at Wisconsin: 2011
Wilson has been one of the league’s most consistent quarterbacks during his career with the Seahawks. A fearless leader, Wilson does whatever it takes to win games which can be shown through his career 66.8 winning percentage, second-best among active quarterbacks with over 40 career starts. Following Marshawn Lynch’s retirement after the 2015 season, Wilson was forced to take on a larger responsibility in Seattle’s offense and has developed into one of the league’s best quarterbacks, throwing for 121 touchdowns and only 34 interceptions in that span.
While Wilson only came to Wisconsin with one year of eligibility left after his transfer from North Carolina State, his impact on the program was immense. Wilson is still considered to be one of, if not the lone best quarterback in Badger history.
Frank Kaminsky (F/C, Phoenix Suns) — Years Played at Wisconsin: 2011-2015
Following a historic career at Wisconsin, Kaminsky was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the ninth pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Kaminsky spent four years in Charlotte, then signed a two-year contract with the Phoenix Suns. Though his season was shortened with a stress fracture in his right knee, Kaminsky was productive when on the floor with Phoenix, averaging 11 points per game on close to 35% shooting from long-range. As Kaminsky enters the 2020-21 season as a restricted free agent, it will be interesting to see where the versatile forward lands.
Joe Pavelski (C, Dallas Stars) — Years Played at Wisconsin: 2004-2006
A native of Plover, Wisconsin, Pavelski has been a consistent goal scorer in the NHL for both the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars. In five of Pavelski’s 15 seasons, the center has netted over 30 goals and, in the 2013-14 season, he made his first All-Star appearance. Before the 2019-20 season, Pavelski agreed to a three-year $21 million contract with the Dallas Stars. Prior to the NHL suspending play due to COVID-19, Pavelski netted 14 goals and 17 assists in 67 games played.
Brian Elliott (G, Philadelphia Flyers) — Years Played at Wisconsin: 2003-2007
In 2006, Elliott, along with Pavelski, won the National Championship for the Badgers and received a spot on the 2006 Frozen Four All-Tournament Team. Elliott has continued his success in the NHL as he has been named to two All-Star teams and received the 2011-12 William M. Jennings trophy for allowing the league’s lowest number of goals. Jennings is currently in his third year with the Philidelphia Flyers.
Rose Lavelle (Midfielder, United States Women’s National Team/Washington Spirit) — Years Played at Wisconsin: 2013-2016
Lavelle enjoyed a tremendous career at Wisconsin and received a handful of national recognition, being named an All-American in three of her four years with the Badgers. Lavelle was named to the United States 2019 World Cup team and appeared in six of the United States’ seven matches. Lavelle was extremely effective when on the field for the U.S., scoring three goals in the World Cup including a clutch goal in the 69th minute in the final against the Netherlands that secured the U.S.’s second consecutive World Cup title.
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It is clear to see that, with such strong athletics programs year in and year out, Wisconsin has developed an extensive network of alumni that represent the Badgers at the next level of competition. With sports currently on hold, it’s always worth a look back at the memories each of these talented individuals has created for Badger fans around the nation.