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November 26, 2011
Light at the end
MADISON - There's a tunnel in the north endzone of Camp Randall Stadium that serves as an emotional corridor.
It's maybe 30 or 40 feet long.
It's somewhat wide - - it could probably fit five padded players shoulder to shoulder - - and it's somewhat dark. Some could probably call it dingy without much argument.
The gray hint of concrete is noticeable, just as the sea of red waiting outside is. It's the last passage thousands of Badger players have taken prior to stepping foot on the field of play.
It's where dreams are made. It's where emotions need to be checked. It's where team's bond together.
It's where U2 blares glaringly over the loudspeakers before the UW marching band greets the 120 campus Gods with their alma mater.
"So many things have happened while I was running out of that tunnel," senior right tackle Josh Oglesby, set to make his final appearance inside Camp Randall later today, said. "My grandmother passed away the first time I ever ran out of the tunnel as a Badger."
That was five years ago when UW opened its 2007 season against visiting Washington State. In a world chock full of uncertainties, unfairness and shock, what would have served as one of the more exciting days of Oglesby's young life essentially doubled back as a reminder of the fragility it bears and what everyone endures at some point or another.
Oglesby didn't know about his grandmother's passing until the game was over.
"It was one of the last things she saw," he said. "Before she left us."
Wisconsin went on to win that game 42-21. Oglesby, who redshirted that season, did not play.
"My dad was telling me that he's never been more proud than when he saw me running out of the tunnel for the first time," Oglesby said. "Things like that just really hit home.
"To know that it's going to be the last one is kind of tough."
Oglesby started his career as a five-star prospect with lofty expectations. He was an Army All-American, he was one of the nations top prep players and had made it clear that he was expecting great things throughout his college career.
Not only did he promise two Rose Bowl appearances (which can still happen), but Oglesby also said UW would win a national championship by the time he was finished in the cardinal and red.
That was before the first of his five serious knee injuries. Injuries that have required multiple surgeries and even more tantalizing rehabs.
"There are times when you're laying in bed after surgery and you're in the worst pain you can imagine," Oglesby said. "You ask yourself, 'Why do I do this to myself?' But I made a commitment to this team and my teammates, my family and myself.
"This is what I want to do."
When Oglesby takes the field in the de facto Leaders division championship game later this afternoon, he'll be in line to make his 26th start at right tackle. It will also be his 39th overall game and last one inside Camp Randall stadium.
As he runs out of the tunnel that has served as the backbone to much joy and heartache, he'll do so with his parents - - the people that have believed in him from the start - - waiting for him on the field.
"They've been there every step of the way with me," Oglesby said. "Every camp, every practice, every game, every hospital visit and every prescription that needs to be filled. They've been there through all of it.
"It's going to be great to run out and greet them."
BORN INTO IT:
Before Jake Current, a seldom-used offensive lineman, was even born his dad had made a purchase. He couldn't wait to hand it out to his first child.
"The first thing he bought me was a football," Current said. "And that was before he knew I was a boy or a girl."
Football has truly been a part of Current's life from the first time he took a breath. His dad, Max, played collegiate football at West Virginia Wesleyan College and continues to coach high school football in Troy, Ohio.
There was no question how football would shape Current's path.
"I've been on a football sideline since I could walk," he said. "I don't think I've been in during a Friday night. I've always been at some football game. It will definitely be a big shock for me. Football has been a part of my life for my 22 years of existence.
"Making that transition will definitely be hard."
Saturday's game will mark Current's final appearance inside Camp Randall as a player. It will also serve as a somewhat cruel reminder that his career is slowly winding down.
Following Saturday's game against Penn State, Wisconsin will have two games remaining at most.
"It went by really fast," Current said. "I can remember my first practice out here on this very (McClain Center) field. It hasn't really hit me yet. I'm sure the last time I run out of the tunnel it's going to really hit me."
Like Oglesby, Current has endured his fair share of injuries throughout his Badger career. He hasn't had five significant knee surgeries, but the one he did have seemed to derail what could have been an entirely different career.
"It's rough that he had the injury as a freshman," UW senior right guard Kevin Zeitler said. "We were playing right next to each other and I think the linebacker ran into him and not me. That's when he went down.
"It really stunk."
By enrolling early Current had hoped to become one of the next in a long line of Badger offensive lineman greats. He had wrapped up his high school education with hopes of making the necessary strides in spring camp that would allow him to get a head start on the rest of the freshmen linemen coming in.
Then the injury happened.
"They set you back," Current said. "Then the younger guys get moved ahead of you in depth. That's just kind of how sports work.
"You can try to prevent injuries, but it's not something you can totally stray away from."
Current has played in 33 games throughout his career, mostly during the late stages of a blowout or on special teams. He has never started a game as a Badger.
"There's been times when I've been super down and on myself," Current said. "I've been pissed off at myself, the coaches, the world and whatever else. But when I look back I'm always like this is the place for me.
"I had a lot of other options to go to a lot of other places out of high school, but the friendships I've made here are worth a lot more than if I would have had an extremely glorious career here."
ONE FINAL TIME:
Josh Oglesby and Jake Current have practiced alongside one another for each of the past four seasons. They've endured physical strife, agony, joy and excitement. They've been on championship teams and teams that have struggled to a 7-6 season.
"If we finish out strong we'll be the winningest class in school history," Current said. "That's obviously a big accomplishment. If we can do that it will definitely be a great achievement. Even if we don't for whatever reason we've definitely had a lot of success.
"We've set a foundation for some things to come."
Both Current and Oglesby are on pace to graduate this December. Oglesby will finish his sociology degree before pursuing an NFL career.
"With the sociology degree there are so many things that it opens up," Oglesby said. "I'm going to focus on finishing up, getting my degree, having that and trying to pursue an NFL career."
Oglesby said he owes it to himself, and everything he's been through, to pursue a professional career in the sports top league. He also said he hasn't paid any attention to what scouts are saying about him during the season simply because it adds an unnecessary distraction.
Deep down, though, Oglesby knows he'll probably be viewed as damaged goods by some teams at the next level. As cruel as it is, it's a gamble to draft a player like Oglesby - - with a long track record of knee problems - - even though his size is intriguing.
But it's still something he's going to pursue.
"I've gone through it all and I'm still here standing," Oglesby said. "Somebody is looking out for me in some ways.
"Hopefully they'll give me another shot of realizing the dream other people have."
Current, meanwhile, is set to graduate with a history degree. He has talked a little about potentially teaching English to Korean kids, or applying to become the latest contributor in the Teach For America program.
When injuries seemed to derail Current's opportunities to see playing time, he made sure to focus on academics and the benefits he has a football player to make the most of his career as a student-athlete.
"He's taken advantage of it in other ways," Zeitler said. "He's definitely going to be the next great history professor - - guaranteed - - because that's what he wants to be."
But before Oglesby and Current pursue their respective careers, they still have at least two games that need to be played. The two friends will march through the tunnel one final time, meet their parents on the field and enjoy some time to bask in the bright lights of Camp Randall Stadium.
Each of their names will be called. Each of them will be cheered for.
"If there's one thing I can point to my career and hang my hat on and say I've done a good job is just perseverance," Oglesby said. "Just pushing through all the stuff that has happened, all the setbacks and stuff that has happened.
"I've just been able to fight through it and never really give in."
For two friends, probably of the lifelong variety each has talked about, Saturday is the proverbial ending to a great run.
The tunnel they have ran through each of the past four or five seasons has always had a light at the end of it. This time, though, the light will shine a little brighter.
"It's definitely been awesome," Current said. "I've learned so many skills here that can be applied beyond football. Hard work, dedication, perseverance, dealing with adversity, inter-personal skills, working with people and people you might not necessarily like. All these great attributes that I'll be able to utilize later in life.
"To be a Badger is definitely something special."