ROSE BOWL / DAILY REPORT : WISCONSIN : Walk-Ons or Not, They Can Play the Game
Wisconsin coaches are justly proud of their recruiting successes of the past four years, but walk-ons--players not considered talented enough for scholarships--have played a major part in getting the Badgers into the Rose Bowl for the first time in 31 years.
Four of them, all-Big Ten offensive tackle Joe Panos, linebacker Chris Hein, punter Sam Veit and place-kicker Rick Schnetzky, will start against UCLA on Saturday in Pasadena.
All are from Wisconsin and, as Coach Barry Alvarez likes to say, “got lost in the cracks” during recruiting.
“The kids from Wisconsin are overachievers, every one of them,” Alvarez said. “They maybe have a little more pride and a little more at stake than the other guys because of their identity with the state.”
Panos, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound player from Brookfield who was voted second-team All-American by UPI, is the most prominent. He spent a year at Wisconsin Whitewater as a defensive lineman before deciding that he wanted to take a shot at Division I competition. Alvarez switched him to offense, and Panos, whose given name is Zois Panagiolopolous, has started 30 consecutive games for the Badgers.
Hein, a two-year letterman from Plymouth, was one of the heroes of Wisconsin’s 13-10 victory over Michigan when he tackled Walter Smith on fourth down at the Wisconsin 28--a yard shy of a first down on the Wolverines’ last play of the game.
Veit is a second-generation Rose Bowl player from Racine. His father, Eugene, played on the Iowa team that defeated Oregon State, 35-19, in the 1957 game. Veit had six punts downed inside the five-yard line this year.
Schnetzky is a junior walk-on from Mequon who came to Wisconsin to play hockey but wound up kicking extra points and short field goals. His field goals from 25 and 36 yards helped beat Michigan, and he has made all 14 extra-point attempts.
He had never played in a football game when he was sent in for an extra point against Northwestern in the fifth week of the season.
All are on scholarships now, but Panos takes pride in the fact that they were walk-ons.
“I was on the practice field one day and somebody was talking about a player and said, ‘He’s just a walk-on,’ ” Panos said. “And I turned to him and said, ‘Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a walk-on.’ ”