University of Wisconsin strong safety Jay Valai has a difficult time talking about the concussions he has suffered.
It's not that Valai is unwilling to talk about them. Valai is a chatterbox who doesn't appear to have a mute switch, no matter what the subject.
The problem for Valai, when considering the question of how many concussions he has suffered, is what precisely constitutes a concussion?
How many times has Valai taken a blow to the head, felt some brief after-effects, then shrugged it off and kept playing?
It's a tough question to answer for the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Valai, who has made a career out of hurtling himself fearlessy at much bigger players.
"My thing is, there are concussions and then there's just hitting your head really hard," Valai said on Monday. "It's tough noticing the difference between the two."
There's no doubt Valai has had at least two serious concussions in his UW career. The first one came in a game against Iowa his redshirt freshman year. Valai said it was diagnosed as a "grade three" concussion, which is the most severe and includes a loss of consciousness for any period. It caused him to miss two games.
Valai suffered another concussion in preseason camp a week ago Friday, although nobody knew it at the time. It happened in a non-tackling drill, when Valai came up to two-hand touch running back Montee Ball.
"He was spinning and his helmet hit me on the chin," Valai said. "It barely hit me. I didn't feel like it was that bad."
Valai continued practicing through the following Tuesday, before experiencing problems that led to discovery of the concussion.
"I didn't realize it and just kept practicing and practicing," Valai said. "It go worse and worse. I started throwing up on the field. I was in La-La Land sometimes when I was out there."
To make matters worse, Valai hyperextended his right knee in a collision with receiver Kyle Jefferson. That's why Valai was getting around on a crutch last Wednesday, the first day he was out.
Valai was one of three UW players who went to Chicago for the Big Ten Conference media days prior to the start of camp. At the time, Valai expressed how wonderful it felt to be healthy again after last season.
He dropped about 15 pounds when the H1N1 Virus hit the team prior to the second game against Fresno State in 2009 and struggled all season to gain it back. He also disclosed he had an offseason procedure to fix a problem with a foot.
When asked in Chicago if it was the best he ever felt, Valai said, "Not even close. It has been a great offseason for me.
"It's now or never, right?" he said of being a senior. "I'm not the young buck anymore. It's time. It's time for me to step up. I will, simple as that."
Despite the concussion and hyperextended knee, Valai insisted nothing has changed from his earlier comments.
"I'm still feeling great," he said. "I've got a little concussion. ... I'm trying to push them every day to let me (practice). It's frustrating. Hopefully, I'll be out there soon enough."
When asked how long that might be, Valai said, "Hopefully, within the next three days. That's the goal."
Valai admitted the issue of concussions is alarming. In addition to the two that have been diagnosed, he acknowledged some concussion symptoms after previous big hits two years ago against Ohio State's Daniel Herron and Dane Sanzenbacher, as well as Minnesota's Shady Salamon - which knocked the "M" decal off Salamon's helmet.
"Hits from a couple years ago like Ohio State, or even the Minnesota hit, I blacked out for a second," Valai said. "Didn't know where I was and about 30 seconds later, I'm good to go."
His teammates don't expect any change in Valai's physical style of play when he returns.
"That's his personality," free safety Aaron Henry said. "Unless the doctor says something different, Jay Valai is going to be Jay Valai, he's going to come up and try to smack you."
Valai said in Chicago, he's aware of the health risks associated with concussions but can't think about it on the field.
"If you go out there thinking about it, you're going to play soft anyway," he said. "My mentality is this, God has a plan for me and whatever happens, happens. You've got to lay it down just like that."