You've seen the highlight by now. Wisconsin's inspired 20-19 win over Arizona State made
possible on a blocked PAT that was just supposed to be nothing more
than a routine extra point attempt by ASU placekicker Thomas Weber. What
would have tied the game turned into a miracle for the Badgers. Coming from the left side of the line was senior S Jay Valai, who jumped a defender and blocked the kick.
"We ran the block, and I ran in and made the play," Valai said. "The
guy gave me a birthday gift. Thank god we made the play, and we won."
The blocked extra-point left Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson nearly speechless.
But Valai has a lot to say. He's a very loquacious athlete and an
extremely ebullient and interesting guy. At Big Ten Media Day, I had an
exclusive with him discussing a multitude of topics. I led off by asking
his thoughts on the potential megaconference era, where every
conference has 16 teams, and as my theory goes, an eventual playoff
"That's too many teams, but the playoff format would be better," he responded.
In a sense, we sort of have a football final four, well a VERY flawed
final four, today with the Big 12 and SEC Championship Saturday every
"Yeah but you want the final four to be able to play each other, not
just 'oh, ok we pick you.' The BCS is great, but +1 everything would be
the best medium," Valai opined.
Many scouts will tell you that Valai is too short (generously listed
at 5-9, 205) to play safety in the NFL, but he still has a ton of pro
potential. Possibly playing corner instead of safety.
In the preseason Valai was named second-team All-Big Ten by Phil Steele and Athlon Sports, and last season he was second-team All-Big Ten (coaches) and honorable mention All-Big Ten (media).
So what's his best asset? The key to his success?
"My mentality, very angry, little man syndrome. I go on the field and
try to prove everybody wrong and my enthusiasm. That's first and
foremost," Valai stated.
In keeping with another of my football theories (as you can see I'm
just full of these complex ideas...yeah, I didn't actually believe that
previous sentence either), defensive backs are quite often the smartest
guys on the field. Many football experts agree with me.
So I asked Valai to discuss the mental aspect of playing in the secondary.
"One thing I learned is that I can't just jump routes. Most times
when I jump a route the quarterback just sees me there and turns away.
You got to learn how to sneak into the route, let the route develop and
then jump the route. I remember a play versus Iowa last year, the tight
end blocked up so I knew he was running this Dover route. Stanzi looked
right at him, I knew that was the route he was going to throw because
that's what they do, we saw that on film.
And I jumped it, so he just looked at me, and threw it out of bounds.
That could have easily been a pick, if I had just waited for a second.
And jumped it at the last second. Small stuff like that from a mental
aspect is stuff I'm going to work on this offseason," he said.
If you're a football nerd, and I mean really, a gridiron hardcore you gotta love that explanation.
Rarely, do you get such a detailed and candid description of the
intricacies and fundamentals of the game. And rarely do you get such a
description from such a talented player.
Paul M. Banks is President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune's blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com