Rose Bowl cohorts
What are the chances that two friends who forged a bond on the playing fields of Pine River School would find themselves on the field for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena?
They have to be infinitesimal.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened on January 2nd, when Sam Arneson took the field for the Big 10 champion Wisconsin Badgers in their bowl game with Oregon, and Leo Olson high-stepped onto the same field for the internationally-famous UW-Madison marching band.
Needless to say, it was an extreme honor for both Merrill High School grads of 2011.
“It was awesome,” Leo said. “It’s something pretty rare and unique to have both of us on the same stage in Pasadena. Hopefully it will happen again before we leave (UW-Madison).”
Sam concurred. “It’s pretty uncommon,” he said. “Growing up with Leo, going to elementary school, always being friends. It was a really cool trip that I’ll never forget.”
Interestingly enough, Leo was more of a shoe-in to step onto that field that Sam. The Badgers had initially planned to redshirt Arneson—a process that lets a player practice with a team for a year without using up one of their four years of eligibility; as long as that player never enters a game during that year. But even though Arneson was buried at fourth overall on the depth chart at tight end (second in ‘Y’ tight end), the Badgers rely heavily on the position and ultimately decided they wanted Arneson on the regular squad.
“At the beginning of the year I was planning to redshirt,” Arneson said. “They had me travel with them in case they needed me, and they decided the second game of the year they needed more than three tight ends and I ended up playing some special teams. They knew with how much they use the tight end, the likelihood of making it through the year was not very good.
“They did stay pretty healthy, but one guy was hurt in the Nebraska game–Brian Wozniak got a concussion– and I got in and played the goal-line sets. Later in the game, (senior) starter Jake Byrne got hurt and I went in for him, too. It was pretty exciting, just a fantastic atmosphere. That was one of the coolest games of the year. I was ready to go and it went pretty well.”
Arneson did end up playing special teams, mostly kickoff coverage and field goal protection. He is still waiting for his first reception after getting two targets in 2011. One was out of reach and the other was broken up by a defender.
It was hardly a walk in the park for Leo and his trombone to take the field with the Marching Badgers, either. The group takes a war-of-attrition stance on who makes the grade, and Leo needed to dig deep to cut it.
“Two weeks before the first game, we had two-a-day and three-a-day practices,” Leo said. “The first week is called Reg.(istration) Week and it’s basically training camp for marching and getting the step down.
“There’s no one that marches Wisconsin-style. I’m still mastering it and I’ve been doing it for several months. Most people have been playing their instrument for several years so they’ve got that down. I’ve been playing trombone since sixth grade.
“(The marching band) is mostly winnowed by your own will power. When I started there were a lot more freshmen. A lot dropped out because they couldn’t handle it. It can be grueling at times. You have to earn your spot on the field. I compare it to any high school sport I did. You work hard to earn that spot and you work hard to maintain it.”
The Rose Bowl trip never ceased to amaze Arneson.
“I had a great week out there, the whole experience,” he said. “They treated us great. I did some things I’ve never done before.
“The game itself was certainly a great game. We had our chances. We just came up a little short. It’s something that I’ll always remember. I just wish we could have had a couple more seconds.”
Wisconsin lost a wild 45-38 contest to Pac-12 champion Oregon. The game controversially ended with Wisconsin on the Ducks’ 25-yard line, Badgers’ quarterback Russell Wilson spiking the ball, hoping for one final shot at the end zone. After review, it was decided the clock had run out a split-second before the spike.
Leo thinks back to early days when he and Sam hung out.
“One of my biggest memories is Pine River School and playing football every day at recess,” he said of the school that is on the chopping block of cost-cutting measures for MAPS. “I have so many memories of that school. It really helped me get to where I am today. I know they have tough cuts to make, but when it’s something close to you, it really hurts.”
Sam added, “It’s too bad. That’s a heck of a school.
“We were always good friends. Leo always had a lot of different talents. He was always a dancer, from elementary through high school. He was one of the leaders in the student section when we were on our big basketball runs (second in state in 2011). I appreciated that from him.”
Band members will perform throughout the stadium during a game, but at other times Leo can catch the action.
“I see (Sam) on the field,” he said. “I look for him all the time–#49. It’s really cool to watch him out there. I’ll lean over to my buddies in marching band and say, ‘See that guy? I’ve known him since I was five years old.’ ”