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Michael Deiter scores TD, State Journal photo

Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Michael Deiter (63), obscured, celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown catch in a game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. Others from left are quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12), offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel (66), offensive lineman Jon Dietzen (67), tight end Zander Neuville (85) and offensive lineman David Edwards (79). 


A recent lunch with three Wisconsin offensive linemen featured some of the great food debates of our time: Does a Kobe beef patty really contain ground beef imported from Japan? Who serves Chicago's best deep-dish pizza? Are cheese curds better than mozzarella sticks?

"They're bite-sized," Beau Benzschawel said. "Anything bite-sized tastes better."

Benzschawel, Michael Deiter and David Edwards are not shy of opinions. Or heft. They estimated their total weight at 957 pounds (Edwards is the flyweight at 315), though that did not factor in our feast at Madison's premier burger spot, Dotty Dumpling's Dowry.

All three ordered the Grand Daddy burger — Kobe beef with aged cheddar and smoked bacon (optional pickled red onions and garlic sauce) — and washed it down with an assortment of wings, truffle fries, mac 'n cheese wedges and, upon my insistence, a corn dog for Benzschawel.

They all drank water.

"Better off wasting calories on food," Deiter said.

Another thing on which they all have an opinion: Who gave up the most money by deciding to return to school?

Benzschawel and Deiter pointed to Edwards.

"Dave," Deiter said, "for sure."

"I watch the tape, man," Benzschawel concurred.

"His upside," Deiter said. "He's super long and athletic. His film this year was unreal."

Benzschawel: "He had a lot of help, though."

And with that they chuckled. Edwards made a smattering of All-America teams as the Badgers' right tackle, but the Downers Grove native was hardly alone. Benzschawel made Sports Illustrated's first team at right guard. Left tackle Deiter was merely second-team All-America, according to Sporting News.

At other programs, all three would have turned pro. If you could draw a salary for busting your butt so the glamour-position guys look good, why wouldn't you?

Benzschawel, who might not have been plucked until late in the draft, wanted to play another year with his brother, Luke, a tight end.

"Plus there's stuff I want to prove to myself," said Benzschawel, who hails from Grafton, Wis. "The potential of how good we can be is something to look forward to. We have some unfinished business here."

But not much. The Badgers had a perfect regular season, were stopped less than 50 yards short of the winning score in the Big Ten title game against Ohio State and then put up 34 points against Miami in the Hurricanes' home stadium in the Orange Bowl.

Not a bad season. They earned their (Buffalo) wings.

"I decided to come back for the same reasons," Deiter said. "One, I can always get better. Two, I'm eight credits from earning a degree. Three, our offense is going to be unreal, and I really want to be a part of it."

The offense, which finished in the Big Ten's top three in scoring, rushing and passing efficiency, loses only two key players: tight end Troy Fumagalli and fullback Austin Ramesh. Spring practice opens March 13.

Deiter, who might have gone in the third round, said some friends and family members in his no-stoplight hometown of Curtice, Ohio, told him to go pro.

"I'm from a really small town," he said. "The concept of playing in the NFL . they say: 'Do it!' But I explained there's more to it. It will happen eventually. No rush."

Edwards' situation is the most intriguing.

Just four years ago, he was a 215-pound option quarterback and excellent student at Downers Grove North. Illinois' Tim Beckman was the first to offer him a scholarship - at quarterback. Northwestern didn't think he had the speed to play superback (tight end), and there was no film of him blocking.

Wisconsin wanted him as a tight end. Iowa coaches pegged him perfectly, earning the eternal respect of the Edwards family.

"They looked at his hands and shoulders and said: We think you're a left tackle," said Edwards' father, also named David. "At the time, he was 225 pounds. I thought: Hmmmm . if Iowa wants you to play left tackle, that's a pretty big compliment."

Perhaps they knew the family secret: David didn't eat breakfast.

"I was a twig," he said. "Everybody told me how skinny I was."

He chose Wisconsin, arrived on campus as a 245-pound tight end, pounded peanut butter, burritos and lean meats as part of a 5,100-calories-per-day diet and surged past the 300-pound mark. Most important, he retained his dexterity and quickness off the line.

Speaking of quick, he redshirted in 2015, started half the games in '16 and had agents breaking down his parents' door last fall.

Each recommended he start the clock on his NFL career, arguing it's the second deal that can bring generational wealth.

Said his father: "If I was 20 years old and had that decision in front of me, I would have leaned toward going. I would just see the money. He is pretty mature."

One thing that swayed Edwards was a chat with Wisconsin alumnus Joe Thomas, the 10-time Pro Bowl tackle for the Browns. Thomas told him that in 20 years, Edwards would remember his final year in Madison more than his rookie season in the pros.

"If you looked at it strictly financially," Edwards said, "it made a lot of sense to go."

As a Bears fan, Edwards revered Hunter Hillenmeyer and Olin Kreutz. As a Chicagoan, he favors Lou Malnati's, Pizzeria Due and Gino's East.

And as a college kid, he relishes the hang-out time that will end once football becomes a job.

His favorite moments?

"Honestly, stuff like this," he said between bites of his burger.

Dotty's, which opened in 1974, is kitschy. On this day its TV screens showed vintage movies, one with Frank Sinatra. Edwards loves Ol' Blue Eyes.

"Our summers are so fun when we're all together, working out and taking just one class," he said. "Do I stay in college another year with all my guys or go live by myself when I don't feel like I'm ready?"