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'Badgering' John Clay: Up close with UW's star running back

CHICAGO - I got a chance to sit down and chat individually with all three player representatives of the Wisconsin football team at the Big Ten Media Days this morning.  Here is a transcript of my interview with Badger running back John Clay.

B5Q: First of all, John, after a couple ankle surgeries in the offseason, how are you feeling physically?

John Clay: I'm feeling real good.  I'm just about 100 percent, back to sprinting, cutting, doing drills and everything.

B5Q: So as far as summer practice this August goes, you'll be ready to go?

Clay: I'll be right there doing every drill.

B5Q: You've been in the program a few years now.  What's the difference between starting in August coming off of a win in a bowl game versus coming off of a loss?

Clay: It just makes you want to just keep it going from a winning aspect, just finishing off well and just starting off well.  That's what we want to do.

B5Q: I'm sure you've heard this over and over again, but you were part of the 2008 team that came in with high expectations but didn't really meet them.  What's the difference this time, with a couple preseason publications picking you top ten in the country?

Clay: We're just trying not to feed into the stereotype and the hype.  We're just trying to break the trend of these past years of having high expectations and then just not being able to stand up.  This year we're trying to keep the outside world outside and focus on us on the inside.

B5Q: What's it like having a veteran quarterback coming back and coming off of a good season?

Clay: It's great to have Scott [Tolzien] coming back.  He's the smartest quarterback I've been around, just because he knows where everybody's supposed to be at, from a wide receiver to a tight end to even a running back.  He knows where you're supposed to be, and that just makes you want to be there just as much.

B5Q: Does having a proficient passing game open things up for you?

Clay: It does.  People know we like to run the ball, so they like to load the box on us.  So when Scott comes in, when they like to load the box, that's when he goes to the passing attack.  The defense has to respect our wide receivers and our tight ends, so they have to unload the box for us and we go back to running the ball.

B5Q: Obviously you're the headliner of the running back corps.  Can you talk a little bit about the guys behind you, Zack Brown, Montee Ball, what they bring?

Clay: They bring a lot.  We don't miss a heartbeat when each one of us is in the game.  Montee had to take over a couple games when I went down against Indiana, Zack stepped up and filled in any aspect of the game.  I have no problem, and I feel very confident in the guys that are behind me, that either one of them can start.

B5Q: Early last season, you put the ball on the ground a couple times against Wofford and ended up not starting the next game. Does that bother you?

Clay: It doesn't bother me as a starting thing, just me putting the ball down on the ground.  Being a running back, we take pride in making sure we have the ball, keeping control of the game.  That really bothered me the most out of anything.

B5Q: The three games you lost last year in the Big Ten - Ohio State, Iowa and Northwestern - all on the schedule again.  Is that a good thing?

Clay: Yes it is.  It's something we've been watching film on, looking at the mistakes we made, and hopefully when the time comes, if the opportunity comes, maybe we can fix some mistakes. Hopefully the outcome will be fixed.

B5Q: You've kind of watched your coach [Bret Bielema] improve a little bit over the first few years of his career.  Can you talk a little about that?

Clay: Just him understanding us as players and what we go through.  He knows that we have rough games and understands what our bodies need, when they need rest and when they don't.  He knows when to push us and when not to push us.  He just knows how to communicate more with us now.  He's always been there to listen to what we have to talk about and help us in the end.

B5Q: A lot of people think after having such a good season last year - Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year - that there was a chance you could have come out and declared for the [NFL] Draft.  Was that ever a possibility for you?

Clay: No.  I never had any doubt in my mind.  I knew what kind of special group we had coming back, and I also knew that I wasn't ready mentally yet, just because I wanted to work on a little more of getting to know the defenses better, blitzes better, and just being an all-around back.

B5Q: Is the chemistry on this team better than it was two years ago?

Clay: Yes it is.  We're more of a tight-knit family.  Having so many returners coming back on offense and defense, it's like a family we have.  We go through ups and downs, we all go through it, and we're always there to support each other.

JH: John, good luck this season.

-Jake Harris