INDIANAPOLIS––It's been a long journey from tiny Sharon, Wisconsin to the NFL Combine for Travis Frederick.
The burly, bearded University of Wisconsin offensive lineman stood at the podium on Thursday and reflected on his time growing up playing for Big Foot High School and the ribbing he's received over his prep alma mater with the unusual name.
"They ask if Big Foot is Sasquatch and if I am actually the mascot," said Frederick. "That’s generally the normal thing that I get. The beard, the big stature, things like that.”
Frederick is set to become the next in a long line of mammoth Wisconsin offensive linemen to take their game to the NFL.
From Joe Thomas to Gabe Carimi to Kevin Zietler to Peter Konz, the Badgers have produced several highly-regarded linemen in professional football over the past several years, and the list doesn't end there. Wisconsin has rightly gained a reputation as being Offensive Lineman U.
"Spending four years there and learning under three different offensive line coaches, I learned a lot of different things and I was able to put those together, and I think that’s helped me a lot," said Frederick.
Frederick's first position coach was Bob Bostad who's since worked his way up from the college ranks to the NFL as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' current offensive line coach. It was under Bostad where Frederick played primarily as a guard in the Badgers' offense.
Then in 2012 Frederick worked during the offseason with new coach Mike Markuson on making the transition to center. Markuson was his mentor during spring football and fall camp, but his tenure didn't last long.
Markuson was fired two games into the season following a loss to Oregon State, and the Badgers promoted graduate assistant Bart Miller to be the new offensive line coach.
It was at that point that the Badgers' season started turning around in the trenches, and Frederick was on his way to becoming one of the top-rated centers in the country. He's actually Draft analyst Mike Mayock's top-rated center in the 2013 NFL Draft class.
"Big, strong kid, gets pushed, smart and tough," said Mayock assessing Frederick's qualities in a conference call earlier this week. "The fact that he's a Wisconsin offensive lineman is going to help him. That's a positive thing to be today in today's NFL."
Whether Frederick is first-round material is up for debate, but there's no doubt that he's entered the discussion.
"I really have no idea," said Frederick. "I hope that teams evaluate me in that light and want to take me high, but I’m just excited to get an opportunity to play here in the NFL.”
Similarly up for debate is whether the Packers would address the center position in the first round. With the 26th overall pick, the Packers could have their pick of the litter.
The Packers do, however, have Evan Dietrich-Smith in their back pocket, the center that replaced Jeff Saturday with two games left in regular season and the duration of the playoffs.
Dietrich-Smith certainly didn't embarrass himself in that four-game stint as Aaron Rodgers' snap partner and actually played quite well in the opinion of Packers Hall of Fame center and radio analyst Larry McCarren.
What McCarren wonders is whether it's prudent for the Packers to invest a first-round pick at a position in which good ones can be developed later in the Draft.
"I think center is a position you can manufacture," said McCarren at the NFL Combine. "If you're going to spend a first-rounder on an offensive lineman, generally speaking, I would look at that guy being a left tackle. Those guys are hard to manufacture. When it comes to the center, you can take a guy with a decent skill set and coach him up."
It's not an easy choice for the Packers at a position with some degree of uncertainty.
If Frederick is a Pro Bowl type center, he'll be hard to pass up. But Green Bay also has to consider whether they can get by with Dietrich-Smith and perhaps concentrate their attention on a more pressing need in the first round.
Despite being a Wisconsin native, Frederick didn't tip his cap about wanting to play for the in-state Packers.
When asked point-blank about the potential of playing for Wisconsin's pro team, all Frederick could say was: "Any of the 32 teams is going to be a great opportunity for me. And I’m going to be able to go out and make my mark on a NFL team and hopefully go out and play for a championship-caliber team.”
Fair enough. Frederick doesn't owe anything to the Packers. Well... unless they draft him that is.
Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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