MADISON - Riding the momentum from a breakout sophomore season, now-senior Nick Toon entered his junior campaign thinking big things. He had a returning quarterback, he had emerged as one of the leagues up-and-coming pass catching threats and he had compiled one of the more encouraging fall camp's in recent memories.
It would have been more surprising if he hadn't had the thought of playing in the NFL run across his mind.
"The thought was always there whether you wanted to admit it or not," Toon said. "The thought of the NFL is always on your mind. It was definitely something I had thought about prior to the season."
It wouldn't be fair to Toon to say he was the only one with those thoughts churning through his noggin.
With every win the Wisconsin football program enjoys, with every spot in the rankings it climbs, with every trip to a New Year's Day bowl game - - in some cases the Rose Bowl - - it becomes more and more apparent that the roster Bret Bielema and his staff has compiled continually reaps rewards.
They might not be the blue chip recruits that several of the top schools get, but the players coming to Wisconsin are talented.
Talented enough to receive meetings with their head coach in regards to their NFL potential.
"I definitely think that's something he should continue to do and I'm sure they will," Toon said. "It obviously helps the guys that may be considering leaving early and also the seniors.
"It gives them a lot of good information on how to make an educated decision and how to follow the NCAA rules and all that stuff."
Clearing the air:
Peter Konz is among the shortlist of centers on the Rimington Award watch list. Always confident in his ability, as well as modest in his demeanor, Konz, a junior, will likely have an NFL decision to make following the season.
"Right now I have set myself up in a position where I don't have to leave," Konz said. "But I don't have to stay either."
He anchors an offense that averages just south of 50 points per game, a running attack that features the nations top scorer and an offensive line that continually ranks among the nations best in terms of protecting the quarterback and opening running lanes for the tailback.
Konz is a legitimate 6-foot-5, 315 pounds. He pulls and runs better than most in the country and is climbing his way up several mock draft boards.
It's just a matter of time before NFL scouts, agents and any of the other outside influences make their presence felt. Sometimes that can become overwhelming.
"Coach Bielema just wanted to make sure that I didn't fall into the trap where I felt I had to pick an agent or that I had to declare right now or anything like that," said Konz, who will graduate in the spring. "If I left that would be a personal decision based on how I felt."
With at least seven games left on the schedule and potentially nine if the cards fall the right way, Konz insisted he was entirely focused on playing his best football the rest of the season. That's his sole focus.
Though outsiders want to inquire about his talent and though agents want to vie for his services, that's not becoming a distraction for Konz.
"Coach Bielema's main points were that we want to make sure to keep my eligibility," Konz said. "And not to take anything from an agent. Instead, refer them to your family. So I just refer everybody to my mom because I want to focus on the season."
As soon as a collegiate athlete accepts an offer from an agent, he/she is no longer eligible to play at that level. He essentially becomes a professional athlete.
"For a 21-year-old like myself, I don't really know what the process is," Konz said. "I know some guys that have been through it, but I don't know personally. It was something outside of my element. He (Bielema) wanted to make sure that we were clear with all the NCAA rules and that I didn't feel any outside pressure from anybody."
Another decision to make:
Through Wisconsin's past 11 games dating back to last season, Montee Ball has scored 29 total touchdowns. Of those 29, 13 have come this season. In short, Ball has been absolutely fabulous for the Badgers.
If it wasn't for an equally impressive start from Russell Wilson, it's more than likely that Ball would be receiving more attention for his play. Needless to say, with 511 rushing yards (and 631 total yards), Ball is still receiving plenty of attention.
So, like he did with Konz, Bielema sat down with Ball and discussed what will happen throughout the next few months leading up to the decision the junior tailback is inevitably going to have to make.
"His big message was to keep playing football," Ball said. "Because all the pieces will fall where they need to."
Ball, like Konz, remains entirely focused on the season at hand. And similarly like Konz, Ball wants nothing more than to approach it one game at a time because putting his abilities on film on a game-by-game will do nothing but help alert the scouts to his consistent approach.
That's the mentality he brought into that meeting.
"You could tell he appreciated where I was coming from," Bielema said. I brought his family in and kind of talked to him and Montee's just like, 'Coach, I just want to get to this next game.' His dad kind of made a comment about being ahead of Indiana and Montee was the first one to correct his father about one game at a time.
'I think Montee has bought into the way we prepare."
Ball admitted that he'll have a decision to make if things keep 'going as well as they are,' but he also made it a point that he didn't have the time or energy to deal with the agents or outside interference that is starting to crop up.
"There's a couple messages here or there on Facebook and things like that," Ball said. "I make sure to block it out, but I usually tip my parents off with it and make sure they take care of it.
"I just keep practicing hard and playing hard."