The Wisconsin Badgers football team has long been known for its superior tight end play.
That’s not likely to change for 2014, but what will change is the vastly expanded role for local favorite Sam Arneson.
Arneson – a 6’ 3”, 245-pound wrecking ball who earned All-State honors at tight end, quarterback and middle linebacker for Merrill High – is now a senior and with the graduation of Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak and Brock DeCicco, is also the elder statesman of the Badger group.
“We had a talented group, a group I really enjoyed playing with,” he said. “We had a great running game and we also had (Green Bay Packer draftee) Jared Abbrederis, one of the best receivers in college football, in my opinion. So it was tough to get targets. I’m really excited to take on a bigger role.
“I’m hoping to be in there every play, moving around and playing different spots, even off the ball.”
Arneson has shown that versatility for the past couple of years, and even earned playing time when stuck behind that talented group. He made six receptions for 57 yards last season, taking two of them into the end zone for the second consecutive year.
“I learned all three tight end spots,” he said. “None of the other tight ends had to do that.”
The stage doesn’t get much larger for Arneson’s expanded role than this Saturday’s prime-time game with LSU, the 14th-ranked Badgers versus the #13 Tigers.
“It’s definitely a good way to start the season against a quality opponent in prime time,” Arneson said. “It should be a good test for our team.
“This will be one of the most talented teams we face in the season, and the first time we started with an opponent like LSU. It’s made the off-season a little more exciting, and given us a little extra motivation. If we get a win it could launch us into a great season.
“It’s a thing more and more teams are going to do with the new playoff system. You need that strength of schedule. I think it’s good for college football with more marquee games.”
Although it technically called a neutral site, the home of the Houston Texans is much closer to Louisiana than Wisconsin. The Tigers will turn around and come to Lambeau Field in 2016.
“Any time you can play in a NFL stadium, that’s exciting,” Arneson said. “It’s obviously closer to LSU, but our fans travel, so it should be a good atmosphere for both teams.”
This is the second year under coach Gary Andersen who replaced Brett Bielema.
“Coach Anderson understands the offense in Wisconsin always runs,” Arneson said. “He’s done a great job of adapting his offense into ours.
“Now he’s running the 3-4 on defense. He likes that because he can be aggressive. Coach Bielema stressed no penalties. Coach Anderson says if we’re going to play man defense, we’re going to be aggressive. I don’t know if there’s another 3-4 team in the Big 10.”
To those nay-sayers that think Wisconsin will be baffled by the speed of LSU, or any team in the South Eastern Conference?
“I think we can hold our own,” Arneson said. “We played South Carolina last year and it was a pretty decent game.”
The Gamecocks defeated Wisconsin 34-24 in last year’s Capital One Bowl.
“We’ve had back-to-back bowl losses,” Sam said. “We’ve got to change that.”
Sam dropped 10 pounds from his weight the past couple of years to facilitate the ability to be a receiving tight end.
“I’m feeling a little faster, but I still kept my strength,” he said. “It feels good to be a little lighter. You’re constantly eating, so the pounds come off pretty easy.”
Two memories stick out in Sam’s mind from the 2013 campaign.
“Being able to score in the bowl game on (first overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft Jadeveon) Clowney. to beat him for the TD was pretty cool,” Arneson said. “The game I played the most was Ohio State because Ped was out. They’ve got a good hard-hitting safety and he got me pretty good right in the chest when I caught the touchdown pass, but luckily I was able to hang on.”
Sam can dream this year’s experience is just a stepping stone to the next level. We do love to follow our own. Wautoma and UW star Jared Abbrederis drew excited reaction from nearly every Green Bay Packer fan in the draft.
“I thought maybe he’d go earlier, but it was a blessing in disguise he got to play for his home-state Packers,” Sam said.
Imagine the swelling of pride in the Valley if a year from now, NFL commish Roger Goodell stepped up to the mic and announced, “With the so-and-so pick in the 2015 draft, the Green Bay Packers select the University of Wisconsin’s Sam Arneson!”
How about it Sam?
“I’ve always been a huge Packers fan, he noted, adding, “just anywhere would be great. It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL. I’m just hoping to have a great senior season, stay healthy and go from there.”