University of Wisconsin junior offensive lineman Ryan Groy had plans on a certain Saturday night when he got a text message from coach Bret Bielema.
Bielema wanted Groy to show a potential new teammate, who was thinking of transferring to the Badgers, around town.
“It was kind of a big situation,” Groy said.
Indeed. The player was Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien, who visited the Badgers on the next-to-last weekend in March.
Groy, from Middleton, has started only six games in his career, but it says something about his growing stature on the team that Bielema selected him to help with the biggest sales job of the offseason.
Bielema seems to have a knack for pairing the right players with potential transfers. Last year, with quarterback Russell Wilson, it was free safety Aaron Henry.
“I just like Ryan,” Bielema said. “From the day I met Ryan, when he was a sophomore or junior in high school, (he) just has a real engaging personality.
“Danny, because you had an older player, he needed to blend in with those (older) players. I thought Ryan would be a good guy, mix him around. He’s just got a good personality. I think it worked well.”
Not only did O’Brien decide to transfer to UW — he will be on campus in early June and has two years of eligibility left, like Groy — he even found a place to live.
Groy shares a house with current teammates, center Travis Frederick, defensive tackle Ethan Hemer, linebacker A.J. Fenton and a former teammate, Sam Edmiston. They had an extra room and O’Brien decided to move in with them.
“Just a great guy,” Groy said of O’Brien. “He’s not the kind of guy that’s going to (try to fool) you. He’s going to give you what he wants and what he’s looking for in a program.
“We told him, ‘We’re not going to put on our recruiting faces and try to lie to you. We’re going to tell you how it is and we’re going to show you a good time and how we live here.’ ”
Groy and O’Brien went to Bielema’s house for a steak dinner, and Groy also showed him around the city.
“We went over to coach B’s house,” Groy said. “I was excited for that, ‘cause it was the ol’ steak dinner. That never hurt anyone.”
Groy is excited to finally have one position to call his own, having played guard, center and even some fullback, when he was a redshirt freshman in 2010. He is projected to start at left guard and practices almost exclusively in that spot, other than limited work at center.
“I think when we moved him from center to left guard, he just found a home,” Bielema said. “He had been bounced around so many times. ‘Bo’ (former offensive line coach Bob Bostad) did a nice job, throwing him in at different spots, but I think he’s owning that left guard spot.”
Said Groy: “Before, I was so used to being all over ... it’s nice to finally have a spot at left guard.”
Groy grimaced when asked if he still has bad memories of playing center. “I think we all do,” he said good-naturedly.
I think all Badger fans have a scary memory of Russell Wilson running backward at the 20-yard line. We’ll wipe that away for (this) year.”
When starting center Peter Konz suffered a dislocated ankle at Minnesota, Groy started at center the following week against Illinois. He had a couple errant shotgun snaps, due to communication issues with Wilson, including one snap that sailed over the quarterback’s head.
In the middle of the Illinois game, Groy was moved to left guard and Frederick moved from left guard to center. That’s the way they lined up for the next two games — the Leaders Division-clinching 45-7 win over Penn State and the 42-39 win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Conference championship game — before Konz returned for the Rose Bowl.
Groy went back to the bench for the Rose Bowl, but his experience making three starts at the end of last season against three of the best defensive lines in the conference was huge.
While the Badgers must replace three starters on the offensive line, the success they had without Konz at the end of last season makes the transition a little easier. Now, they can focus on filling the spots on the right side, at guard and tackle.
“It’s just preparing for games, getting used to what to look for on film and coming into a game, you don’t have any butterflies,” Groy said. “You’ve prepared for what you’re going against.”