MADISON - From unrated tight end to the best funeral director in Menominee, Mich., Jacob Pedersen was ready to take the most bizarre career switch among the recent scholarship drop outs at the University of Wisconsin.
Unhappy with his play and homesick during his first season, Pedersen was ready to chose a different career path until the coaches put him on scout team to help the Badgers prepare for their rivalry game against Minnesota. It was a move that kept the promising tight end on the roster, and gives Wisconsin a legitimate threat this fall.
Named UW's co-offensive scout team player of the week for the Minnesota game, Pedersen used that week as a springboard into his true freshman season. Playing in 13 games with four starts, Pedersen caught eight passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns lining up with senior All-American Lance Kendricks, and even made a start in the Rose Bowl.
Having added 10 pounds to get up to 245 pounds, Pedersen is looking to use that new weight to become the next great tight end at Wisconsin. Although slowed by an ankle injury suffered last Saturday, Pedersen talks to Badger Nation about his near career choice and the turning point of his young career.
Badger Nation: You were making such good progress this spring that I have to imagine that you are disappointed your spring had to end with an ankle injury?
Pedersen: It’s better than I thought it was going to be. I am trying to rehab and see if I can get back for Saturday to do some limited stuff, so we’ll see how that goes. I am just rehabbing a bunch of times a day. I was getting better obviously and we’re short on tight ends, so that puts more of a workload on the other guys. It’s a long spring ball and to go down the week of the spring game, which is work towards playing, is a little tough.
Badger Nation: What did you think actually happened when your ankle was rolled up on?
Pedersen: I really wasn’t sure because I never really had an injury happen like that where I was forced to missed stuff. I’ve rolled and tweaked my ankle before, so when it was actually happening, I couldn’t really feel anything from my knee down. Once it started to get some feeling, I told the trainers that my ankle hurt and as they checked it out, they thought it could be serious, so I got pretty lucky.
Badger Nation: Since Coach Bielema dropped that nugget about you leaving the team and focusing on being a mortician, how many times have you been asked about that?
Pedersen: Probably every time somebody talks to me (laughing).
Badger Nation: I guess I should ask then about your decision to almost walk away and go on that path you thought about going on?
Pedersen: Well, like freshman year, guys go through hard times and I was home sick and wasn’t happy with what was going on with football. I was talking to Coach Bielema and Coach Rudolph, telling them I was better than this and I knew that I could play better on the field. I was struggling in school, and I never struggled in school before, so I knew I had to turn things around. That’s where the mortician thing came from.
Coach Bielema asked what I wanted to do with my life and I like science and business, so what could I do that has both of those fields? It was a thought that lasted for a day or two, but I mentioned to Coach Bielema and he thought it was funny.
Badger Nation: You said that you knew you could get better, so why would you think about walking away knowing that you had so much more to give?
Pedersen: Yeah … that’s a good question. I don’t know. I was going through a hard time and it was different coming from a small town to a big city and obviously, this is a different level of game than high school. Everything is faster. I really like baseball and if I didn’t come here, I probably would have went to school for baseball. I was having second thoughts, thinking if baseball should have been my first sport. The coaches reinforced to me that as I got older, stuff was going to start to come to me and I was going to learn the offense. I’m glad I stayed because things started to turn around.
Badger Nation: When did the moment happen for you that the light bulb popped on and you started making progress and making plays?
Pedersen: It was right after I talked to the coaches and I told myself that I needed to get out there, start meeting people and making new friends. If I am going to be here, I should try to enjoy it and when you are on the football field, just give it all you can. That’s all you can do and if stuff doesn’t work, then it doesn’t. The coaches started giving me some chances, playing Eric Decker when we prepared for Minnesota. I started making plays and it made practice more fun. I just realized that I can do it and it’s more of a mental game than a physical game almost.
Badger Nation: What was it like then for you when you got to line up on the field with a special tight end like Lance Kendricks and make the same scout team catches in front of 80,000 people?
Pedersen: Lance is a really good player and to be able to watch them, I just tried to take their characteristics and apply them to my own game. I was nervous as heck for my first catch but after you start getting that, the game starts to slow down and watching film, everything starts to slow down. You see yourself start to make plays, your confidence begins to grow.
Badger Nation: What did that first touchdown catch feel like? What were you thinking when the ball was coming at you?
Pedersen: I remember the play call and I was thinking that I may get the ball on this one. When I came out of my break and I saw Scott (Tolzien) throw it, I just jumped and I was telling myself when I jumped just to catch the ball, catch the ball. When I came down, I didn’t know what to think. I just tried to hand the ball to the ref and get to the sidelines.
Badger Nation: It’s been a lot of growing moments for you it seems, so what was growing moments from the Rose Bowl to winter conditioning to the start of spring like?
Pedersen: I just told myself that I had to put size on. I was always a small tight end, so I wanted to do that, study the film and improve all aspects of my game as much as I can. I realized that come spring, it’s going to be an open competition and we’ll see who takes over. We have a lot of good tight ends that have graduated here the last few years, so we just need someone to step up their game, and I’ve been trying to do what I can.
Badger Nation: What’s it like working with Coach Rudolph, who has such a wealth of knowledge with the tight end scheme and especially the blocking?
Pedersen: He’s a great coach and I definitely owe him a lot for him helping me stay here. He has you focused on details so much. You never really have that in high school, and you don’t realize how much difference a little detail can make. This one step can help you can get inside on this one block and this can help you do that. He’s really helping me show how far technique goes in blocking.
Badger Nation: What’s the big goal for summer to put yourself in position to get that starting spot?
Pedersen: Just keep getting stronger. Strength is one of my weak spots, especially upper body. I am just going to keep working hard in the weight room because I was limited this winter with a toe injury that I had. I just want to get back running and get back to where I am comfortable with my body.
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