MADISON | Imagine a world in which you were encouraged to eat your favorite unhealthy food every day with zero consequences.
Oh, you want a bacon double cheeseburger? Go for it.
How about loading your plate up with pancakes drenched in maple syrup? It’s all yours.
Or what about a heaping portion of chicken alfredo seven days a week? Yep, you can have that, too.
This is essentially the life that David Edwards – Wisconsin’s newest offensive lineman — is living in right now. For him, the food he can’t get enough of is Chicago-style deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s, a popular restaurant chain in the Chicago area, including a store in Edwards’ hometown of Downers Grove.
“It’s so good,” Edwards said with a huge grin following a practice this past week.
A “skinny” 240 pounds when he arrived on campus last summer, the 6-foot-7 Edwards has packed on 50 pounds, all of it needed as he makes the move from tight end to offensive tackle.
“It is fun,” Edwards said of the weight-gaining process. “Obviously you can’t only put garbage in your body, but when I was playing tight end I was monitoring my weight a little bit. But now I cut it loose and can eat whatever I want, whenever I want.”
And he’s done just that, eating up to four times a day, while he’s watched his weight steadily rise to where he tipped the scales at 290 pounds as the Badgers opened fall camp. He hopes to be 300 pounds before the start of the season and could potentially settle in at 315 to 320.
Edwards story is one that’s not unfamiliar to Wisconsin offensive line coach Joe Rudolph. In 2008, when he served as the team’s tight ends coach, a walk-on from West Allis came to campus as a “big” tight end. But like Edwards, it became pretty clear early on that a change would be needed.
“Ricky (Wagner) came in at 245 pounds,” Rudolph said of the former All-Big Ten left tackle. “Then he was 272 one morning and he got moved. David came in at 280 one morning, and we’re like, ‘Ah, this is probably going to be where he’s going.’”
Wagner made the move while redshirting during his freshman season. He played in 12 games in 2009 and went on to start 37 contests over the next three years, playing along an offensive line that was a key in winning back-to-back-to-back Big Ten titles. A fifth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2013 NFL Draft, Wagner has been a mainstay at right tackle for them, having started 31 of a possible 32 games over the past two years.
The day Wagner was drafted marked the end of a journey that Edwards is just starting. Asked what advice he’d give Edwards, the 26-year-old Wagner was straight and to the point.
“You really got to learn fast or you’re not going to make it,” Wagner said this past week during a break at Baltimore’s training camp. “It’s definitely a good thing to get thrown into the fire early on because you learn fast.”
And that’s exactly what’s happening for Edwards. A former high school quarterback, the redshirt freshman has been working with the second-team offense at right tackle, while also getting some reps with the starters in place of redshirt sophomore Jake Maxwell. That means facing All-Big Ten performers like outside linebacker Vince Biegel and defensive end Chikwe Obasih on every snap.
“Everything happens a lot quicker,” Edwards said. “[You’ve] got guys in your face [right away].”
Perhaps no position group on the field needs great technique to play at a high level more than the offensive line. It takes time to learn those movements, and it’s something that neither Wagner or Edwards was ever exposed to in high school. So, outside of on-field work, how does one improve? They open their eyes.
“The biggest thing that helped me was just watching the guys in front of me, watching the starters on tape, pretending that’s you,” Wagner said. “If they do something good, look at why they had success on that play. If they did something wrong, figure out how they can improve it. It really puts yourself in their shoes on film.”
Edwards admitted that having the confidence he could make the move wasn’t necessarily there when the coaching staff told him of the position change back in June. The same could have been said of Wagner when he walked into a room with future first-round picks Gabe Carimi and Kevin Zeitler. But it didn’t last.
“It was kind of intimidating at first. But once I got there, all the guys were like coaches for me,” Wagner said. “They really took me under their wing and really made the transition as easy as possible for me.
“The guys really helped me out and accepted me as one of their own. And I think the offensive line, as a group, is such a tightknit family. It’s hard to fail once they accept you.”
Veterans along the current line accepted Edwards in a similar fashion. If he had questions, he could look to guards Beau Benzschawel and Micah Kapoi. And he’s also well aware of what Wagner accomplished and wouldn’t mind following in his footsteps.
“He’s a great person to look up,” Edwards said.
It’s also possible that the days of being a tight end aren’t completely over for Edwards. Over the past 20 seasons, including when head coach Paul Chryst was Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator, the Badgers have used offensive linemen as jumbo tight ends. Joe Thomas played there as a true freshman in 2003, and Bill Nagy lined up there in 2009 and 2010.
“He might go out there and play tight end for us in a bunch of games. And if we need him to play tackle, we feel like he can play tackle. And do a great job there,” Rudolph said. “He’s going to have a role on this team, but it’s probably going to be multiple (positions) this year.
“But I think his future is going to be at tackle, and I think he’s got a chance to be really good there.”