- Associated Press - Thursday, December 16, 2010

MADISON, WIS. (AP) - Lance Kendricks remembers being 11 years old and sitting in a Milwaukee kitchen, mesmerized at the images on the small television.

Kendricks watched Ron Dayne run through Stanford on the way to 200 yards rushing on Jan. 1, 2000, the second of back-to-back Rose Bowl victories for the Badgers.

“I was back at home watching it in the kitchen, my mom was cooking, I didn’t really have aspirations of going to Wisconsin, but I think that was one of my best memories of watching Wisconsin on TV,” said Kendricks, now a senior tight end for the Badgers.

No. 4 Wisconsin (11-1) is finally in the Rose Bowl again, facing undefeated TCU (12-0).

The third-ranked Horned Frogs have the nation’s best run defense, and Kendricks recognizes it’s not just the Badgers’ vaunted offensive line that must block for the talented backs.

“We’re definitely a run-first team. Clearly,” Kendricks said. “The receivers know they have to know how to block. So if they have to know how to block, I definitely have to know to block.”

Kendricks recognized he had developed all the skills it took to be successful in Wisconsin’s offense in the bowl game last year. With Miami clamping down on Garrett Graham, his counterpart, Kendricks began running Graham’s routes in the offense.

Kendricks finished with seven catches for 128 yards and the Badgers beat Miami 20-14 to win the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

“It catapulted my confidence. From then on, I kind of took it as a game of thinking to a game of fun. That’s pretty important,” he said.

Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien and Kendricks both came into the program together, redshirted and were on the scout team as freshmen. Kendricks, who entered as a standout wide receiver, struggled initially.

“There was a lot of hype behind me, but in high school we didn’t really have a big playbook, so coming here there was a lot to learn, it was literally starting from step one,” he said. “That spring, they moved me to tight end, I learned how to block, probably the hardest thing to do.”

Tolzien said Kendricks‘ pass catching skills are unique and that Graham and former tight end Travis Beckum helped Kendricks develop. He now takes a lot pride in his blocking ability.

“You have to know how to block at tight end, especially in the Big Ten, you can’t go without blocking,” Kendricks said. “I knew if I put in that hard work, it would definitely pay off and it has.”

Coach Bret Bielema said Kendricks keeps pushing himself to be better, something his teammates recognize, too.

“If you took a vote, I bet you our kids would say he’s one of the top five workers in our program,” Bielema said. “(He) just does not do anything but just works, grinds and has become very, very smart at football. … He’s playing as good of football as we’ve seen at that position.”

And the list of great players for Wisconsin at tight end is long. Thirteen have played in the pros and four have been on NFL rosters this year (Beckum, Graham, Owen Daniels and Jacob Pociask).

Off the field, Kendricks enjoyed creating art, specifically charcoal drawings and other mediums in high school and winning a regional award that placed his art on display at the U.S. Capitol.

Tolzien, who roomed in the dorms with Kendricks his freshman year, said his roommate would often work into the wee hours of the night.

“I’d be trying to sleep and the lights were on. The next morning, I’d wake up and he’d be fast asleep,” Tolzien said. “And there’d be this masterpiece for whatever his assignment was.”

He’s also spruced up teammates’ apartments.

A mural he created of a beach scene is painted in the living room of the apartment now shared by Tolzien and linemen Bill Nagy and John Moffitt.

“It runs the whole length of our couch and probably goes up about 5 feet. Yeah, he’s a very impressive artist,” Moffitt said before joking at the production time. “It only took him five months to do it because every time he came over he’d just start watching whatever was on TV and then we’d just be hanging out.”

They’ll all hang out at least one more time at the Rose Bowl, where Kendricks believes the Badgers will know just what to do next, something he learned early from listening to the commentators of that old game in his mom’s kitchen.

“At Wisconsin, you understand how to work, what it takes to play and the commitment needed,” he said.