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Hudson grads ready for final season with Badgers

Things are back to where they should be.

Kraig Urbik will be at right guard, and Eric VandenHeuvel, at right tackle, when the University of Wisconsin Badgers open the 2008 football season against Akron University in Madison's Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.

The two Hudson natives had good success opening holes for running backs and protecting the quarterback on the right side of the offensive line last season until VandenHeuvel went down with a leg injury in the Nov. 3 game at Ohio State.

That prompted the coaches to move Urbik to tackle, the position he played when he joined the Badgers starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2005. Another Badger took the right guard position for the rest of the 2007 season, which ended with a 21-17 loss to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.

VandenHeuvel's bruised tibia in his right leg mended over the winter. Now he and Urbik are looking forward to picking up where they left off.

"I'm glad to be back at guard," Urbik said in a phone call Tuesday. "Van and I did pretty well together last year before he got hurt, and I'm looking to continue that success on the right side."

The two have been playing football together for all but one season since 2001, when Urbik was a sophomore, and VandenHeuvel, a freshman, on the Hudson High School football team.

Urbik, a 2004 Hudson High graduate, was redshirted his freshman year with the Badgers. He has started every game since joining the Badgers' active roster in 2005.

VandenHeuvel, who graduated from Hudson High in 2005, became a starter with the Badgers at the start of his sophomore season.

Both players are in their final year of eligibility with the Badgers.

"Both Kraig and I are pretty excited about having our final season here," said VandenHeuvel, who also was contacted by phone on Tuesday.

Neither player wanted to venture a prediction about how the Badgers will do this season, but both said one of the team goals is to win the Big Ten Conference championship.

To do that, they'll most likely have to defeat Ohio State on Oct. 4. The Buckeyes are the No. 3-ranked team in the nation, according to a preseason poll by the Football Writers Association of America.

The football writers have the Badgers ranked at No. 12.

Urbik, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 332 pounds, is one of 70 offensive and defensive lineman from around the nation on the watch list for the 2008 Outland Trophy. The trophy is awarded at the end of each season to the college lineman the football writers consider to be the best in the country.

He was elected one of four team captains by his teammates at the start of the season.

Head Coach Bret Bielema called Urbik a "natural leader" on the offensive line and said he appreciated his consistent work ethic.

In Tuesday's phone call, Urbik said it was a great honor to be chosen as a team captain by his peers.

Come next spring, he just might be picked in the NFL draft to join a professional team.

"I'm hearing a lot of things. People say my prospects are pretty good," he said. "But there are a lot of factors that go into it. It could all change depending on how things go from here."

"It's definitely something I want to pursue," he added. "But there is a lot of hard work I have to do between now and the draft next April. I'm just trying to stay focused. The coaches are keeping me focused. I just keep trying to improve and get better."

VandenHeuvel, a 6-foot-7 324-pounder, also has heard that he has a chance of being taken in the NFL draft.

He said he's not counting on that happening, however.

"I'm going to keep up with my school work, play as best as I can out on the field, and we'll see what happens," he said.

The Badgers are hoping to improve on their 9-4 overall record in 2007. They went 5-3 in the Big Ten last season.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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