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ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Zach Heilprin

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Most Important Badgers: No. 4 OLB Vince Biegel

Jul 28, 2015 -- 3:40pm
MADISON - Dave Aranda called Vince Biegel a hound dog or at least compared him to one. It was early November of 2013 and the University of Wisconsin football team was preparing to take on Brigham Young. The Badgers were eight games into the season and Biegel had shown flashes of the type of outside linebacker he could be in UW’s 3-4 defense. But he was also not the most disciplined in his assignments, leading Aranda to compare him with man’s best friend.
“You get a hound dog and you’re teaching him how to fetch and he’s just chasing balls, chasing cars, chasing your kids,” said Aranda, who is the Badgers’ defensive coordinator. “Chasing everything, and you just want him to chase whatever you’re fetching.”
Flashback to the present and not only is Biegel chasing what Aranda wants, he’s doing it at a very high level as he enters his junior season. A year ago, Biegel finished second on the team in sacks (7.5) and first in tackles for loss (16.5). It was good enough to earn him second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media, while his name appeared on this year’s preseason watch lists for both the Lombardi Award and Bednarik Award.
But he’s far from a finished product and it’s one of the reasons Aranda had Biegel dropping into coverage a lot more during spring practice, while UW’s other starting outside linebacker, Joe Schobert, rushed the passer more.
“I think spring is a time that we can work on deficiencies,” Aranda said midway through spring practice. “We’re working on the weaknesses so come fall we’ve got that full plate of options.”
Of any player on UW’s roster, Biegel likely benefited the most from Aranda and former head coach Gary Andersen implementing the 3-4 scheme. When it was Bret Bielema calling the shots and running a 4-3, Biegel was piling on the weight to play defensive end. While he likely would have become a solid player there, he can be special on the outside. At 6-foot-4, 241 pounds, Biegel brings an element of speed, while maintaining his ability to deal with big offensive tackles through strength and a never ending motor.
And while that non-stop motor is a vital part of his game, it can also leave him worn down by the end of the game. Aranda should be able to help avoid that this year as the outside linebacker depth is as good as it’s been since the change in scheme. Along with Biegel and Schobert, UW can turn to senior Jesse Hayes and redshirt sophomore Jack Cichy when needed.
Still, at the end of the day Wisconsin will need a big season from Biegel if they want to match or exceed what they were able to do a year ago on defense.
1) July 31
2) July 30
3) July 29
4) OLB Vince Biegel
About the 2015 Most Important Badgers:
This is not a list of the best players on this year’s squad. Instead, we asked a number of ESPN Wisconsin personalities to rank the 15 players that are most vital to the Badgers success in 2015. They were told their rankings should be based on what players hold the key to UW competing for a Big Ten title or more in Paul Chryst’s first year as coach. Factors that came into play were past success, what was said about them by their coaches this offseason and what type of season could be expected from that particular player.
The list does not include any incoming freshmen, because we have yet to see them on the field as college players.


Most Important Badgers: No. 5 LT Tyler Marz

Jul 27, 2015 -- 4:04pm
MADISON - When the University of Wisconsin football team takes the field against Alabama on Sept. 5 they’ll be facing a daunting challenge. Already 10.5-point favorites, the Tide will bring arguably the best defensive line in the country into AT&T Stadium just outside of Dallas. They boast defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, who could be an early first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Others like Jonathan Allen and Jarran Reed are considered possible early round picks as well, while last year’s top-rated recruit Da’Shawn Hand enters his second season.
"That defensive line is a beast," Alabama running back Derrick Henrytold in the spring. "You've got four or five big guys that dominate every play and give it their all every play, and that's all you can ask from the defensive line.”
That’s what the Badgers’ offensive line will be facing that night – something that would be tough even with an experienced unit back. But UW doesn’t have that experience, at least not across the board. That’s why the play and leadership of senior left tackle Tyler Marz will be paramount to the Badgers standing a chance in the season opener for both teams. The Minnesota native is entering his third year as a starter, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten last season in a conference stacked with a lot of talented tackles. But gone are linemates Dallas Lewallen, Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein, replaced with three players that have yet to start a game.
“You can definitely feel the void there,” Marz admitted in the spring. “You can definitely feel that those other three guys are gone. We miss them. But this spring has been good for the young guys.”
Marz used to be that young guy. He was forced into action in 2013 after an injury and over time has become the “next” guy at a school that produces as many offensive linemen for the NFL as any program in the country. He’s considered the third or fourth best tackle in the Big Ten, with the guys in front of him expected to go in the first round. Marz has the ability to be a mid-round or higher pick next April.
“There was always been the confidence in us that he was going to be a great player,” former graduate assistant Josh Oglesby said in the spring. “Every year you hope for some improvement but Tyler’s gains have been huge to where he is that guy now that we look to. When we need to have a play, we look to Tyler.”
The young players will look to Marz this year, just like he did when coming up. He got an opportunity to watch Ricky Wagner, Travis Fredrick, Peter Konz and many more apply their trade. And though he’s not a very vocal type of leader, he doesn’t need to be.
“I think as an offensive lineman here, you show what you’ve got by doing it on the field,” he said. “There’s definitely times that you need a little pick me up here or there, but I think that’s one of the things we pride ourselves in.  I definitely saw it as a young guy. There didn’t need to be a lot of talking along the offensive line.”
But there does need to be continuity along the line, something that wasn’t there during the spring. Center Dan Voltz, the only other current lineman to start a game in his career, missed a majority of practice with a leg injury. It forced a shuffling of the line, which happened again when left guard Ray Ball went down late in camp. Both guys are expected back for the start of fall camp and need to be on the field for UW in North Texas.
As for the rest of the guys, Marz is confident they’ll step up like others before them.
"Wisconsin has a tradition of just always someone stepping up,” he said. “It was my duty two years ago when I was coming in here. (Former Badgers guard) Ryan Groy might not have had the confidence in me coming out of that spring, but come fall I was a guy. And for me then, I just didn't want to let him down. So the guys really need to feel that with me and Dan (Voltz), because that motivates you. You don't want to let the guy next to you down. We'll just keep moving forward."
1) July 31
2) July 30
3) July 29
4) July 28
5) LT Tyler Marz
About the 2015 Most Important Badgers:
This is not a list of the best players on this year’s squad. Instead, we asked a number of ESPN Wisconsin personalities to rank the 15 players that are most vital to the Badgers success in 2015. They were told their rankings should be based on what players hold the key to UW competing for a Big Ten title or more in Paul Chryst’s first year as coach. Factors that came into play were past success, what was said about them by their coaches this offseason and what type of season could be expected from that particular player.
The list does not include any incoming freshmen, because we have yet to see them on the field as college players.


Badgers basketball: Van Vliet makes it official

Jul 27, 2015 -- 2:57pm
MADISON - The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team has officially added a fifth player to their class of 2015.
The team announced Monday afternoon that Belgian native Andy van Vliet had signed his national letter of intent and will join the team later this summer.
“We are excited to have Andy join an outstanding class of incoming freshmen,” UW coach Bo Ryan said in a statement. “Andy possesses many of the characteristics that have been successful with the other big men that have played in our program. He is a skilled, versatile player who has terrific work ethic. He made his intentions known early on that Wisconsin is where he wanted to be and we are excited he is joining our basketball family.”
The 6-foot-11, 203-pound, van Vliet played this past season with the Port of Antwerp Giants in Belgium, but maintained his college eligibility. Van Vliet’s signing became official on the same day the forward turned 20.
A left-hander, van Vliet’s game is in the mold of most European big men. He can shoot from 3-point range but still needs to get stronger and develop an interior game. His highlight tape is filled with mid-range jumpers, 3-pointers and him blocking shots. It also appears he can handle the ball in the open court.
In addition to Wisconsin, van Vliet also had offers from Oklahoma State, St. Mary's and Washington State.
He joins small forward Khalil Iverson (Delaware, Ohio), shooting guard Brevin Pritzl (De Pere, Wisconsin) and power forwards Charlie Thomas (Clarksville, Maryland) and Alex Illikainen (Wolfeboro, New Hampshire) as commitments in the class of 2015.

Badgers football: UW picked to win the West Division

Jul 27, 2015 -- 11:28am
Photo/Getty Images
MADISON - The University of Wisconsin football team may be in the midst of another major facelift on their coaching staff and roster, but the media that covers the Big Ten still thinks they will take home the West Division title for a second straight year.
32 of the 40 media members polled by picked the Badgers to win what is considered the weaker of the two divisions in the conference. Five chose Nebraska, with the remaining three taking Minnesota.
In the East, defending National Champion Ohio State was the unanimous pick to head back to Indianapolis for the conference title game, and all 40 chose the Buckeyes to beat whoever comes out of the West.
If the poll is accurate, which it has yet to be in the four previous years it’s been done, the Badgers would be in the title game for the fourth time in its 5-year existence. Last season, Ohio State handed them the second-worst loss in program history, a 59-0 beat down that proved to Gary Andersen’s final game as UW’s coach.
Ohio State also dominated the voting in Player of the Year projections. Running back Ezekiel Elliott earned 31 of the 40 first-place votes for Offensive Player of the Year, with Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook picking up three, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones getting two and the other possible starter at quarterback for the Buckeyes – J.T. Barrett – got one. Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, who will step into the spot vacated by Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon, finished fifth in the voting.
For Defensive Player of the Year, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa received 37 first-place votes, with Maryland cornerback William Likely get the other one. Wisconsin outside linebacker Vince Biegel tied for seventh in the voting, while safety Michael Caputo came in at No. 10.
Below are the voting totals for the media’s picks to win the conference via
1. Ohio State 280 (40)
2. Michigan State 240
3. Penn State 186.5
4. Michigan 163.5
5. Maryland 95.5
6. Rutgers 78
7. Indiana 76.5
1. Wisconsin 272 (32)
2. Nebraska 231.5 (5)
3. Minnesota 197 (3)
4. Iowa 158.5
5. Northwestern 125
6. Illinois 77
7. Purdue 59
Big Ten Championship 
Ohio State over Wisconsin (32)
Ohio State over Nebraska (5)
Ohio State over Minnesota (3)
Big Ten Champion
Ohio State (40)


Badgers football: UW helps Habitat for Humanity, local family

Jul 24, 2015 -- 7:03pm
Photo/ESPN Wisconsin
MADISON - Abdulahi Mohamed, his wife and their four kids currently live in what has become a cramped apartment in Fitchburg, a small Madison suburb. But that environment will be a thing of the past soon enough after the events that played out in a parking lot outside Camp Randall Stadium on Friday morning. That’s where, with the help of Habitat for Humanity of Dane County and general contractors J.P. Cullen Inc., 91 University of Wisconsin football players were hammering nails and building walls of what will become the first house Mohamed and his family will ever have to call their own.
“It’s wonderful,’ Mohamed said about halfway through the build. “I don’t know what to say. I’m excited.”
The help given is just the latest in an effort by the entire UW Athletic Department as part of their Badgers Give Back initiative, a program started in 2012. Other recent events involving football players have included visits to the American Family Children’s Hospital and several players shaving their heads as part of the second annual “Badgers Go Bald” event that raises money for cancer awareness. Senior safety Michael Caputo was one of the players that shaved his head in April and was heavily involved in Friday’s event as well.
“The homeowner is here. He’s helping out,” Caputo said of Mohamed. “He’s just real appreciative of everything we’re doing. He personally went up to all of us and said, ‘Thank you.’ It just means a lot.”
Mohamad was born in Somalia and grew up in Kenya before coming to the Madison area 18 years ago. His kids, ranging in age from 1 to 8 years old, have never had a yard to call their own, something many take for granted.
“I just know going back to my childhood, growing up in the house I did, with the family I did, you got a front yard and a back yard. It’s anything I could ever hope for,” quarterback Joel Stave said of his upbringing in Greenfield, Wisconsin. “Being able to, through Habitat for Humanity, being able to provide a home for a family, it’s a cool thing to do.”
The morning of work took place as the Badgers begin to wind down their summer workouts in preparation for fall camp opening up early in August. Stave said being able to do something productive away from the field is beneficial for the team and those they are helping.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get together as a team and have fun doing something outside of football,” he said. “But obviously the positives that come from it, giving a family a home, good service for the community. It’s really a good thing for the university to be doing all around.”
The home will eventually end up in the Elver Park area of Madison’s Southwest Side. UW players being a part of the build, along with the other volunteers that will finish the project, is something that will stay with Mohamed.
“We’re trying to work as a team, building a home right in the middle of Camp Randall,” he said with a big smile. “It’s something you want to share with your children. It’s a story I can’t wait to share with them.”
Mohamed’s excitement, his presence at the worksite and his effort to thank the players made the three hours they spent helping seem even greater.
“To know why you’re doing it, and know you’re doing it for someone in need,” Caputo said, “that’s a great thing.”

Badgers football: Caputo says there is some frustration over recruits not getting admitted

Jul 24, 2015 -- 3:55pm
MADISON - When running back Jordan Stevenson was denied admission to the University of Wisconsin this week, he became at least the eighth player in the last three recruiting cycles to either commit or sign with the Badgers and not end up in Madison due to academics.
It’s a relatively new issue for Wisconsin and has gained publicity due to several of the players turned way being some of the Badgers top recruits, including Stevenson, who was the top rated member of UW’s class of 2015. Many have pointed to former coach Gary Andersen and the type of student athletes he wanted to recruit as a reason for the increase. He abruptly left for Oregon State after just two seasons and later said that the higher academic standards were at least part of the reason for his departure.
"That's not Wisconsin's fault," Andersen told in January. "That's Wisconsin's deal ... I want to surround myself with those kids I can get in school."
The seemingly large number of players being turned away has left some fans frustrated with UW’s admissions department, while others have applauded them for trying to keep and raise the school’s academic pedigree. Current players are conflicted, knowing some of the guys not allowed in could help them win games.
“Yeah, there’s a little bit of frustration,” safety Michael Caputo said Friday morning as members of the football team helped put together a home for Habitat for Humanity. “I don’t know all the details, but it’s sad that a guy willing to come here and commit here doesn’t even get the opportunity to even step on the field.”
But Caputo, like the public and the media, doesn’t get to see what the admissions department does when it comes to deciding whether a kid gets in or not.
“There are so many unknowns that it’s hard to form an opinion about it,” Caputo admitted. “The admission board has their cutoff line. If you don’t meet it, it is what it is.”
That cutoff line differs for all students, including athletes, as UW uses a holistic approach, meaning they take everything into consideration – grades, test scores, outside interests – when determining who gets in and who doesn’t. That leaves them open to criticism when someone like Stevenson can’t gain admission to Wisconsin despite meeting the NCAA's standards to be eligible.
“That’s the university’s call. The coaches recruit who they are going to recruit. If the guys can get in, they can get in,” quarterback Joel Stave said. “It’s unfortunate that not everyone gets an opportunity to come to a school like this and play, but that’s the nature of the school.”
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