MADISON, Wis. - A season ago, Wisconsin safety Jay Valai made it clear to opponents that he wasn't afraid to hit somebody. Through two games in 2009, though, the energetic junior has not had many opportunities to make plays.
For a player that relies so much on making big plays from his position, the downturn in chances has been admittedly frustrating. However, patience remains the key word. With it, the chance to make some noise in the secondary will come.
Following a recent practice, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with the strong safety. The following is a question and answer with Valai:
Two games in, just assess how you've been playing as well as the play of the defense in general.
Valai: I think we've played good, but we can always play a lot better as a team and individually too. I mean, the first game, I didn't really get many plays to come my way. Last game, I had some plays. We're playing good for the most part, but not good enough. I know we're, as a defense, never satisfied and we're going to try to keep moving forward every game.
Do you have to kind of keep yourself in check? I mean, when the plays aren't coming your way
Valai: It's frustrating. It gets real frustrating, but when they do come your way
.what I've learned is I keep overstraining every once in a while because I'm trying to force plays, force plays, force plays. You can't force the field, you've got to field the force, that's what coach Paul Chryst told me before. I got to start using that everyday and that helped me out a lot last week too.
It would be nice to get some plays coming your way though.
Valai: Yeah, it's frustrating at first. Especially in my second year, I'm hungry, hungry, hungry, but when the plays come to you, you just got to make them. You can't force them.
One play that stood out to me was when you went and barreled into the lineman and took him out. Was that just kind of releasing some of that frustration?
Valai: Yeah, it's a little anger. I was upset. I saw the quarterback and I was trying to hit the quarterback but the lineman got in the way and was about to jump on J.J. Watt so I just hit him. He went flying, so that was good. After a whole week of frustration and all the stuff we dealt with last week, it was good just to hit somebody and get the feeling back of knocking somebody around.
Did you get sick at all last week?
Valai: Yeah, but we deal with it. I got sick, lost a couple of pounds, but it is what it is. Our team doesn't use it as an excuse and no other team is going to feel sorry for us. I know that much.
Is it kind of a building block when you persevere through that?
Valai: Yeah, if we can get through this, we can get through anything. I know that much. So team-wide flu, get through it, win the game and come back and hopefully step up this week just focusing on Wofford and get ready for the Big Ten right after that. That should be team bonding enough. I know that much.
Talk about Wofford. They kind of run a goofier offense that you don't see as much.
Valai: I mean, they're some South Carolina boys, some southern boys like myself. They're probably tough and will come in here ready to play. Their offense is very different from what you usually see out there. Football is football. Run, see and hit. That's all. After that, everything else falls in line.
You played last year when the team played Cal Poly, another FCS school. Is the talent gap that different?
Valai: Well, I got hurt against Minnesota so I didn't get to play against Cal Poly. But, I mean, it's not a giant
.It's football. These guys are hungry. They may not be the fastest guys we're going to play or as strong, but they're just as hungry. I know they're as tough. That's one thing. When you get on the football field, I don't really think about FCS 1 or 2, I just go smack somebody around and lets play football. If you think like that, that's how you get surprises like Appalachian State or Cal Poly last year. So we can't think like that. We just have to go play football.
I was reading something somewhere that said they like to run the football 85 to 90 percent of the time. How focused do you have to be to not let that other 10 percent beat you for a big play?
Valai: That's a major thing. The No.1 thing is just reading our keys. You read your keys and know your responsibilities and don't force things like I was talking about before and just knowing where you're supposed to be and what play your supposed to make. The rest will fall in line. If our defense does that, I think we'll have a successful day on Saturday.
You guys got three turnovers last Saturday, too. That's something you guys didn't do a whole lot of last year. That's got to be exciting.
Valai: No, not at all. That's exciting to see. I think we had three picks last week. It's just making plays on the ball. Not just when we don't need them, but when we need them. All three of them were in the second half. That's one thing our young defense is doing.
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