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May 30, 2011Shortly after former Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien worked out and threw - and threw well - in front of a large number of NFL scouts at UW's annual Pro Day in early March, he was seen conversing with a number of professional personnel in a one-on-one setting.
Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice, to name a few, each took some time to chat with Tolzien, UW's most efficient and accurate passer in program history.
At that time, it looked as though there was genuine interest in the two-year starting quarterback that completed his career with one Big Ten championship and a 21-5 career mark as the starting signal caller. It seemed as though it was interest that would definitely get him drafted in the later rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft.
You can imagine then, based off how he performed both during UW's Pro Day and the NFL Combine, what was going through Tolzien's mind once the draft finally came around and unfortunately passed by without much for him to get excited about.
"I went in thinking I was going to be late round to free agent," Tolzien told FM 100.5 ESPN (WTLX) in Madison last Friday night during the station's Badger Hour program. "It's frustrating when you see guys at the position that get drafted. Of course the competitor in you is measuring yourself up against those guys and wondering why they picked them over you.
"But at this point in time that's behind me and I use that as motivation."
That's a motivation that Tolzien puts on stage front and center each and every day. Because of the current NFL labor dispute - one that has kept the league locked out for more than 70 days and counting - teams are not allowed to have any contact with undrafted free agents such as Tolzien.
So because he doesn't know where he'll be or what team will give him a shot, Tolzien is focused on simply maintaining his level of fitness by working out with a number of former teammates that are in much the same situation on a daily basis.
"I've been throwing with Isaac Anderson, David Gilreath, Lance Kendricks and Maurice Moore," Tolzien said. "Then you've got John Moffitt, Bill Nagy, Joe Thomas is back, Jim Leonhard is back in town and Jeff Stehle. It's awesome because it gets repetitive when you're going through the same routine on a week-to-week basis.
"When you've got other guys going through it with you it keeps you motivated and keeps it fun as well."
A year ago at this time, undrafted free agent Chris Maragos was already set to begin his career with the San Francisco 49ers. According to Tolzien, though Maragos wasn't drafted he knew where he was going to get his chance about 10 minutes after the final pick was announced.
That's a luxury Tolzien and the rest of the undrafted Badgers don't have. Instead, Tolzien, like a number of other players, was called during the draft by teams that liked what they saw and wanted to alert him of their interest in him as an undrafted free agent so that whenever this lockout ends he would get his chance.
Because they aren't allowed to talk with players after the draft, that was the only chance NFL teams had to talk to guys they generally had an interest in bringing in once all the red tape and bickering gets resolved.
"I spoke to a handful of different teams in the seventh round," Tolzien said. "The second the draft concluded the phone calls kind of ceased. Now we're basically just playing the waiting game so hopefully it gets figured out sooner rather than later."
Having covered Tolzien for each of the past four seasons, there was one thing that stood out about his character and personality more than anything else. He's modest.
Whether he was addressing the media after throwing two critical pick sixes that thwarted an otherwise dominant offensive performance at Ohio State in 2009, or talking to reporters after the team clinched a Big Ten title and bid to the Rose Bowl in 2010, he always proved his modesty and humbleness.
Taking a page out of Bo Ryan's philosophy, Tolzien never seemed to be too high or too low at any time during his tenure as UW's starting quarterback.
He has a lengthy list of accolades at Wisconsin but you'd never know it if you had a chance to sit down and reminisce about his playing days. He's a guy that genuinely gives credit to his offensive line, coaching staff and the rest of the players around him.
"It's something that now, with a lot of the free time and being in Madison, even on day-to-day basis when you walk through the tunnel to go throw in the stadium it brings back memories," Tolzien said. "When you're going through the process like we were the past two years you're just caught up in the moment and just focusing on the now. The nice thing is once the season ended you kind of get a chance to look back and say, 'Wow, it was a fun ride and we had some good times.'
"But it's also exciting just to start the next chapter both for myself and all the other rookies and also for Badger football. It's time to start a new season and keep moving in the right direction."
That type of attitude, along with a tireless work ethic - Tolzien works out from 9 a.m. to noon each and every day - will give him a shot in the NFL. There's no reason it shouldn't.
Hopefully for Tolzien's sake that opportunity won't have to be put on hold much longer.
"I really feel strongly that it will get figured out because it's such a big part of people's lives in our society," Tolzien said. "I think everyone is optimistic and that's the way you've got to look at it. Myself and all the other rookies, we're hoping it gets settled sooner rather than later just so we can start getting that mental part of the game.
"You go from that college playbook to an NFL playbook and it's quite a huge jump. The earlier you can start learning that the better."
-Tolzien on how tough it is to pick up the UW playbook in a short amount of time, referring to the Russell Wilson situation:
"It would be difficult. I'm just going from my personal experience from when I was an 18-year-old high school senior coming into Wisconsin, but I think it might be a little bit different just because he's a little bit older and he's been in a college offense before. I'm sure there is a lot of base carryover from offense to offense. It would be tough, but the biggest thing is if the person is willing to put in the work you can get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time."
-Tolzien on Jon Budmayr:
"You know Jon and I assume you've talked to him and know what kind of kid he is. He's a very levelheaded guy and an extremely hard working and conscientious guy as well. I think when you have that combination of things, as the years go by, Jon is not going to get complacent. He's going to continue to improve and get better. At the end of the day, he's going to be a heck of a quarterback."
-Tolzien, a Chicago Bulls fan, on whether LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan as stated by Scottie Pippen:
"I'm so biased because we used to schedule our family dinners around Bulls games so of course I'm going to say Jordan. I do think it was fair to say because LeBron is so young and the sky really is the limit for him. We'll get a true answer in 10 years and see where LeBron is then."