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

first_imgBEN CLASSON/Herald photoThe extra practices allotted to the Wisconsin football team inpreparation for its matchup against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl present aunique situation.While on the one hand the coaching staff uses the additional15 practices allowed under NCAA rules to game-plan, scheme and stay sharp withthe starting offensive and defensive units, there is also a careful eye to thefuture with the knowledge that not all of the players seeing regular actionwill be back the following year.There are some for whom that is a certainty — namelyoutgoing seniors — but in some special cases, it could mean juniors with an eyeon a potential jump from the collegiate ranks to the greener, richer pasturesof the National Football League.That is the situation facing the Wisconsin coaching staffthis December, as juniors Travis Beckum and Jack Ikegwuonu are weighing theiroptions with the possibility of leaving school early.”We joke about it,” Ikegwuonu said. “You talk with youragent, we just joke about it a little bit, but I think being here … it’s reallyhard not to think about it. But, at the same time, you have to stay focused andget the job done here. If you don’t get it done here, there’s going to benothing after.”Of the two, Beckum would seem to be the one who, at thispoint, would be more appealing to NFL scouts. The tight end is coming off hissecond consecutive exceptional season. Despite being named first-team All-BigTen this season, Ikegwuonu struggled at times, including in Wisconsin’s finalregular-season game against Minnesota, when Gophers’ wide receiver Eric Decker— Ikegwuonu’s main responsibility — caught six balls for 125 yards and twotouchdowns.”At some point we’ll talk, but we haven’t talked to him yetabout it,” offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said of Beckum.Likewise, the junior tight end has yet to make any decisionsregarding his future.”That stuff will come,” Beckum said. “I am going to send inand get my draft grade, and after the season sit down and talk to the coachesand go over that.”Whatever happens, happens with that.”Two years ago, Beckum was a reserve defensive end coming offa quiet season in which he played in 10 games but registered only one solo andone assisted tackle.Now, just two seasons into a highly successful switch totight end, Beckum is in a position to have legitimate reason to consider theNFL.”It’s crazy,” Beckum said. “I think in college football youjust need one good year (to open eyes of scouts). If you love the game, goodthings are going to come, and I absolutely love it.”While Chryst knew Beckum was a phenomenal athlete, thesuccess 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 ofthe last two seasons, Beckum has led all Wisconsin receivers in receptions,total receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and yards per game. His 73 catchesthus far this season are nearly three times more than any other Badger hashauled in. Beckum’s 960 yards receiving and 80-yard-per-game average are alsotops in the country for tight ends.”I don’t think I really have anything to prove,” Beckumsaid. “I’ve done what I’ve done and I think I’ve done a good job of helping ourteam move the chains and be a threat in certain situations where we needed it.”While Beckum acknowledges room for improvement — “I’ve gotto get better at every aspect of my game” — by returning to school he wouldalso run the risk of having a down year while adjusting to a new quarterback orsuffering an injury.”Just me and my family,” Beckum said of whom, along with thecoaching staff, will be involved in the decision-making process. “Just ingeneral, I think looking at what’s best for me, what’s best for my family.”Jack in the boxBeckum and Ikegwuonu should receive their grades well beforethe Outback Bowl, but regardless of that, Ikegwuonu says he will make nodecision until after the season.”I’ve obviously got another game to play, so that can swaymy decision either way,” Ikegwuonu said. “Until the season’s over, until afterthe bowl game, I’m really in the middle on it. I don’t really know what the futureholds.”In addition, Ikegwuonu said he will look at factors outsideof his individual play when it finally comes time to make a decision.”You have to look at guys you’re going against, and what thecorner class is going to look like next year,” Ikegwuonu said. “There’s so manythings that go into it.”When it is all finally said and done, however, Ikegwuonuwill be the one to decide whether he returns to anchor the Wisconsin defensivebackfield for his senior season, or if next season will be spent chasingprofessional wide receivers around the field.”Obviously, I’m the one that’s going to have to live withit,” Ikegwuonu said. “So as much as I have to listen to other people, I’ve gotto follow my heart and do what my heart tells me to do.”last_img