Jacob Pedersen admitted it was a weird feeling now being known as a "former Wisconsin Badger."
"I still feel like I'm a part of the Badgers family," Pedersen said. "I'm definitely going to have to get used to it."
Only 2 1/2 months from his last collegiate game after spending the past five years at Wisconsin, Pedersen has prepared vigorously for the 2014 NFL Draft since. He just returned to Madison in late February after bouncing between Miami, Fla., Mobile, Ala., and Indianapolis. Though managing a hectic schedule, Pedersen's in the position to be another Wisconsin tight end to contribute at the next level, like many of his predecessors have already done.
Pedersen stayed in Orlando the day after Wisconsin the Capital One Bowl to South Carolina, spending time with his family before heading further south in the Sunshine State to Miami. There, he trained at Bommarito Performance Systems, the same facility running back James White worked out at.
There was also another former Badgers player training at BPS, St. Louis Rams tight end Lance Kendricks. Pedersen played with Kendricks in 2009 and 2010, and it was a great opportunity for the NFL prospect to ask the three-year veteran about the experiences he was about to partake in.
"Lance was kind of a mentor to me," Pedersen said. "He was a great player obviously here. I was a redshirt freshman, got to play alongside him for a few games in that season."
Pedersen traveled to Mobile for the Senior Bowl in late January. He describes it as a "great experience," as he stood toe-to-toe against the best seniors in the the collegiate world for a week of practices in front of NFL general managers and scouts.
The tight end also played well during the game, hauling in four receptions for 46 yards. He wasn't the only former player from Wisconsin to showcase his talents, as former teammates Chris Borland (eight tackles, one forced fumble) and James White (61 yards rushing, one touchdown) also displayed their skills for the North team. Overall, he enjoyed the time and effort he put forth.
"I thought I performed well down there," Pedersen said. "I thought I made some plays -- did some good things on special teams, so it was definitely a good time there."
Pedersen's next stop in between training was the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. It's a grueling schedule with team meetings and NFL personnel grilling prospects during interview sessions with repetitive questions. Though long days and a seemingly never-ending amount of sessions abounded, he admitted he thought the process would be harder than what it was. He credits he time at Wisconsin with preparing him for this opportunity,
"Wisconsin's a physical team and demand a lot out of their players," Pedersen said.
"Everyday, guys are coming to work, and this isn't a place where you're given your job -- you have to earn it."
His five years in Madison also taught him to adapt to different coaching techniques and personalities, as he has been under the wings of three different tight end coaches. Each coach has introduced something that Pedersen will take with him as he pursues his NFL dream.
Joe Rudolph coached Pedersen his first three years in the program. Rudolph was detail-orientated and one who stressed techniques and fundamentals, Pedersen said while praising him for teaching him a lot about the game of football.
"He was a lot like a father figure to me," Pedersen said, "just because he recruited me, he brought me in and he taught me the basics of the game."
When Rudolph left with Paul Chryst to start rebuilding Pitt's football program, former head coach Bret Bielema hired Eddie Faulkner -- himself a former Badger like Rudolph -- to take over the tight end coaching duties. Pedersen said Faulkner, having knowledge of the previous regime, made the transition easy for his players. Faulkner focused on the numbers, minimizing drops and knowing the playbook 100 percent.
When the leaves of change again blew through Camp Randall in December 2012, when Bielema left to become Arkansas' head coach, another transition was forthcoming. Faulkner joined offensive coordinator Matt Canada at N.C. State, leaving a deep tight end group including Pedersen, Brian Wozniak and Brock DiCicco waiting for its third coach in as many seasons.
Enter Jeff Genyk, who was hired by new head coach Gary Andersen. Pedersen and Genyk actually crossed paths before during Pedersen's recruiting process, when Genyk was the head coach at Eastern Michigan. Pedersen noted Genyk was a mix of Rudolph and Faulkner in his approach, being detail orientated but also "stingy" on what he wanted his players to do and not want to do.
Genyk also helped Pedersen in another way. With the transitions and different practice philosophies taking a bit of an effect, even when Pedersen was named the 2012 Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year, Genyk worked with him to regain the trust in his hands again.
It made a big difference last season. Pedersen became the No. 2 receiving option for Wisconsin, as he caught 39 passes for 541 yards and three touchdowns.
"I could definitely see catches that I was struggling with the year before become second nature to me," Pedersen said.
Pedersen's not only been able to pick up new coaching styles in his time at Wisconsin, but he's also adapted and excelled in a variety of different positions that can help NFL teams. In his career, he's had experience as a "Y-back" (a more traditional tight end), in a hybrid fullback/tight-end look known as an "H-back", split out as a wide receiver and stood in on a variety of special teams units.
"My biggest [asset] is my versatility", Pedersen said.
The Menominee, Mich., native plans on returning home for the draft in early May, with plans to hang out with the tight-knit community at a local restaurant -- though he is planning on spending the Friday and Saturday of the three-day draft extravaganza with just close family and friends.
Though he's just about three months into his time as a Wisconsin alumnus, he's left quite a mark on Badgers football. He currently ranks No. 16 in career receiving yards with 1,394 and No. 7 overall in touchdown receptions with 17, the latter statistic being the most from any tight end in Wisconsin history. On a team level, he helped lead Wisconsin to three consecutive Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances.
The career accolades are impressive, but he'll also take with him the bonds he forged with his teammates through the years of success and uncertain transition. With many former Badgers training in different parts of the country for the combine and Wisconsin's pro day, Pedersen said they all kept in touch in some fashion. It's a group of teammates he feels that is different from other football programs.
"You always see teams talking about being a family and being real close and tight-knit groups.' Pedersen said.
"I don't know from high school to having other friends on the teams that I've ever seen a tighter group of guys and more family-orientated type of group of individuals than my teammates at Wisconsin. I made friendships that will last a lifetime."