Jay Valai was like a kid with his nose pressed up against the glass case at the candy store, whose mom told him he could only pick one thing.
How was he going to choose?
That’s what the University of Wisconsin strong safety was trying to do while agonizing over his captain’s ballot during team voting on Tuesday night.
Each player can vote for two players on the same side of the ball and one on the opposite side, meaning Valai could only put one offensive player on his ballot.
“It was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do, vote for one of those guys,” Valai said. “I was sweating. I think I put down two for offense. I erased it and crossed it out about three or four times.”
After UW coach Bret Bielema tabulated the votes, six captains were selected. It’s a large and diverse group, consisting of Valai and middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean on defense and four players on offense — linemen Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, quarterback Scott Tolzien and tight end Lance Kendricks.
All are fifth-year seniors who came in together as part of Bielema’s first official recruiting class in 2006.
Tolzien recalled not knowing any of the other players when he showed up on campus.
“To see how tight-knit you can become in four years now, it’s definitely special,” Tolzien said. “Now you’re at the point where that window of time together is getting smaller. You’ve got to try and make the most of it.”
The only other times the Badgers named six captains came in 1996 and 2001. The 2007 team picked five captains and added a sixth for each game.
“It is a lot more than usual,” Carimi said. “I was surprised when we announced that many captains.”
But is it too many?
“I would think you probably could have too many but not six,” Bielema said. “I think we’re going to be all right.”
Prior to the vote, Bielema laid out the parameters to the team.
“This isn’t a popularity contest,” Bielema said. “It’s not an MVP vote about who’s the best player. It’s about guys that since you’ve been in this program, you’ve seen do the right things, not only on the football field, away from the football field, in the weight room.
“I just asked them to think about that when they’re voting. I thought our guys really did a nice job.”
Having so many captains means a wide range of personalties and styles, which should appeal to just about everyone on the team.
“I think we have the right number,” Moffitt said. “I think we’re all represented well. I think guys know how to give each other room to lead, when it’s necessary for them to say something and when it’s not.
“I think we’ve done a good job of balancing that throughout the spring and all through the summer. No one’s trying to take too much or say too much. I think everyone puts in their part. It’s pretty balanced.”
When asked to name the best leader he has been around in his time at UW, Valai said, “Scott’s tough to beat.”
“Scott’s not short, like I am, but he works like a short guy,” Valai said. “I stay afterward, Scott’s in there. I go watch film, Scott’s watching film. All of the guys on offense are amazing (and) Culmer on defense, I just love the group we’ve got going.”
Kendricks might be the quietest member of the group, but his approach and play on the field speak volumes.
“He’s a pretty quiet guy but it’s real cool to see guys respect him, because of his actions and his approach and how humble he is,” Tolzien said.
When Kendricks’ name was announced, Valai got so excited he jumped up cheered.
“It’s an honor to lead a bunch of guys like the ones I have this year,” St. Jean said. “In the summer, we all worked hard and we grinded. When everybody’s on the same page and wants the same thing, it’s easy to lead.”
St. Jean gets close
St. Jean, who has been out with an ankle injury suffered in the scrimmage last Saturday, still has not returned to practice.
“I’m not full-go,” he said. “I did some stuff with the trainers and I did some stuff with strength and conditioning (coaches). I’ll be good by the end of this week.”