Korger: Arnold ‘managing’ new life as football player

first_imgAndy Fate / The Badger HeraldLate in Monday’s rainy football scrimmage at Camp Randall, a wide receiver donning No. 7 on his jersey reached out and made a nice diving catch. As he jogged back to the sidelines, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen extended his hand and gave the player a high-five.There wasn’t cheering in the stands. There wasn’t any scrambling by fans to see who the player was. Maybe it was the rain, wind and cold that made the fans unaware of a catch, or even a play, that was three years in the making.After all, that same player had just been hauling Wisconsin’s practice equipment no more than four months ago.Growing up in Sherwood and playing football for Kaukauna High School, Brett Arnold grew up like so many local Wisconsin boys wanting to play for the Badgers. But that dream stayed a dream. When it was all said and done, Arnold was heading to Wisconsin as a student, not a football player.Then, as fate would have it, Arnold wound up in the same dorm as star wide receiver and former walk-on Jared Abbrederis during his freshman year. The two developed a friendship and Abbrederis made a suggestion that Arnold should consider becoming a manager.And that’s where the made-for-movie plot takes off.For three years Arnold served as a manager and for three years he did so faithfully, mainly helping running backs coach Thomas Hammock. Still, the dream of playing for the Badgers remained, mainly due to the questioning of his grandfather, who passed away this past February.“He always asked me, ‘So are you ever going to walk on? You’ve got great hands!’” Arnold beamed. “I’d say, ‘No Gramps, that’s not how it works; I’ve got a job.’”Arnold’s grandfather had a better knowledge of the measure of his grandson’s talents than perhaps even his grandson did, because it was those hands, those “great” hands, that pushed the young man into the spotlight.“Before practice the managers have some time once we set everything up,” Arnold said. “We just play catch, throw the ball around and after a while you get bored playing normal catch and start making the trick catches.”“We always joked around with Brett that he had the best hands on the team out of anybody, managers and players,” senior manager Doug Ingels said. “[Graduate assistant Luke] Swan saw Brett and said he should try out and it just went from there.”“I went up to Luke and asked if [walking on] was a possibility and he said yeah let’s try this out,” Arnold said. “I owe my life to Luke.”After some solid selling from Swan, whose own career started as a walk-on wide receiver with the Badgers, Arnold asked Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema if he could have a shot as a player.Bielema said yes, but that promise meant nothing when the head coach departed for Arkansas just days after the team’s win in the Big Ten Championship Game.It was almost like a scene out of the movie “Rudy,” where the protagonist earns the verbal promise of Notre Dame head coach Ara Parsehian that he will be able to suit up for a game during his senior season, only to see Parsehian step down. But, luckily for Arnold, new head coach Gary Andersen is nothing close to the Hollywood representation of Dan Devine, Parsehian’s replacement in the film.Although he admits after Bielema’s departure he initially worried that his chance would be forgotten, it was soon erased when he heard about Andersen’s reputation as a players’ coach. Plus, he still had a big network of support in Hammock, Swan and secondary coach Ben Strickland.After trying to figure out the right time to ask, Arnold worked up the courage in Pasadena to ask Andersen the only question he had wanted answered since Dec. 4.“At that point it was kind of like I just wanted to know,” Arnold said. “We had a practice at the Rose Bowl and I went up to coach Andersen with coach Strickland. He kind of introduced me and said who I was and coach Andersen was happy as can be and welcomed me with open arms, so it was great.”With his fellow managers watching the exchange knowing what hung in the balance, Arnold turned around from the conversation with a big smile of relief, prompting an exchange of high fives and congratulations from his coworkers.After all, Arnold’s ascension from the rank of manager to player doesn’t happen every day. The last Badger manager to do so was Joe Sibley, who walked onto the team his senior year in 2006.‘We all wish we could play,” Ingels said smiling. “But Brett was in a special circumstance where he has a special skill set that gave him an opportunity. And he took advantage of it.”The moment became real when he sat in front of a locker adorned with his name on it, complete with his own helmet with the motion W he had grown up his whole life aspiring to obtain.“When it happened and I got my locker and I got my helmet, I just sat in my locker and just looked around like, ‘I did it,’” Arnold said.Upping his weight to 183 pounds (and rising), Wisconsin’s newest wide receiver has had to transform his body, learn the offense and become reaccustomed to the aches and pains of an athlete. Still, Arnold has made teammates and coaches alike forget that he was helping set up practice just last fall.“I had no idea he was a manager until coach Hammock told me that he was the best manager he ever had,” Wisconsin first-year wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said. “He’s one of those guys that makes you come to work everyday because he always wants to get better and he’s happy to be here and be a part of it.”“When he came for workouts, we didn’t notice any difference,” Abbrederis said. “I think he has a chance to play.”“He’s an old guy,” sophomore wide receiver Jordan Fredrick said jokingly. “He’s humble, he’s not coming in thinking he’s an all-star. He fits with our wide receivers perfectly. We’ve gelled so much. He’s not an odd man out at all, he’s part of what we do and who we are.”Maybe getting around 10-20 reps every scrimmage, Arnold is focused on making that limited time count, especially with a large amount of his family and friends coming to watch him in this weekend’s annual Wisconsin football Spring Game.Even though this is a storybook, made-for-the-movies storyline, Arnold knows he has the opportunity to make big gains in a limited amount of time. With an entire summer remaining to get faster and stronger, Arnold is a member of a wide receiving core that only has one proven wide receiver and is wide open for playing time. And there’s always the opportunity for a role on special teams.“It’s a dream come true,” Arnold said, looking almost astonished at his helmet.“It’s totally different for me, usually it’s just kind of like a work day for me but now I’ve got to come in and know what I’m doing. I’ll figure it out, but I love it, man. It’s a dream come true.”last_img