By Tom Lea
Joe Thomas started it. Gabe Carimi extended it. Now, it's on Ricky Wagner to keep it rolling. Does he have what it takes to become the team's next Outland Trophy winner, and in doing so, become the third straight Badger left tackle to receive the award at some point during their career?
Using Wagner's rise to left tackle as an example, I sure wouldn't doubt him.
Wagner handled a position change -- tight end to offensive tackle -- in stride. He had to add a ton of weight, somewhere in the 80-pound range, to get there, but he never seemed to have any apprehension about it. Somewhere deep down Wagner knew that he might have had the best chance to contribute to the Badgers if he changed positions and so far it's worked out about as well as anyone could have imagined.
Because he's so athletic, and because he's so versatile, Wagner has done nothing but impress during his tenure in Madison. When Josh Oglesby went down with a season ending ACL injury early last season, it was Wagner that stepped into the right tackle position without missing a beat. It was Wagner that kept what turned out to be one of the best offensive line units in Wisconsin history functioning at the level it was functioning at a year ago.
There are plenty of times a player will be thrust into a spot earlier than expected and earlier than the coaches would probably prefer. If that was the case with Wagner a season ago, you would have never guessed it because the coaches raved about his demeanor, skills and determination to be successful seemingly as often as they could.
So now, as the 2011 season inches closer, and as the Badger have a tall task of replacing departed Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi at left tackle, there are probably not a ton of reservations. And that speaks to what Wagner has been able to accomplish during his three years in Madison, particularly after he realized he would no longer be projected as a tight end, but as a 300-plus pound offensive lineman.
He added the weight -- and did it in a healthy way -- and now has a chance to become a household name across the Big Ten with a solid year at left tackle. Clearly the position he plays, especially with a right handed quarterback in Russell Wilson or Jon Budmayr, is the most important on the offensive line. Luckily for the Badgers, if the way Wagner has continually impressed during his career is any indication, it seems as though there is another great ready to break out at left tackle.
Joe Thomas started it. Gabe Carimi extended it. Ricky Wagner has everything in his arsenal to keep that momentum rolling.
UP NEXT: No. 4 on our list faced plenty of adversity a season ago and responded with one resounding performance after another.