MADISON, Wis. - Jay Valai has a reputation as a hard hitter throughout the Big Ten. Whether that is a good or bad thing remains to be seen as his pass protection has been inconsistent throughout his play on the field. Now, nearly halfway through spring practice, Valai is focusing on slowing himself down and improving all-around.
Following a recent practice, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with Valai. The following is a question and answer with the junior safety.
For you, is playing under control still kind of an issue?
Valai: Yeah, A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) on the football field is pretty bad for me. You can't go out there and try to hit everybody on every play. I just need to take a couple of deep breaths and calm down. That should help out eventually. Playing with control is one thing but I think controlled chaos is what you really want on the football field. So learning how to balance that is my biggest thing.
Is it simply taking a deep breath sometimes?
Valai: Yeah, well I was just thinking trying to be a psycho, trying to help get everyone pumped up and motivated. Like I said, there's a time and place for everything. You can't go for the big hit 24-7. When it's a 3-0 count, you don't go for the homerun on a sinker. You need to relax, you better take that pitch.
That being your style, what kind of style does Chris Maragos have?
Valai: Chris is just a smooth little white rapper, that's what he is. He can push to the post. Chris is just real smooth, he can come up and tackle you. He will cut tackle you. Yeah, some of those cut tackles I've seen last year, he's a good ball hawk, too. Chris brings a little different style, but it works real well for him.
In general, does the physicality of the secondary need to be amped up a little bit?
Valai: I think the whole team needs to be amped up to be real with you. The more physical team we are, we are Wisconsin, we are who we are. I forgot who said that, 'We are who we thought we are,' but that's what Dennis Green said right? So, we are who we are so we need to play physical. It's Wisconsin for a reason so we need to play a physical tone of football.
Do you feel like you guys lost an edge at times on defense?
Valai: It seems like we just got pouty, or whatever it was. I think we didn't man up at times. When the games started going away from us, it seemed like we would just lay over. You can't just lay down like that. But we learned a lot from that last year. It was tough for the seniors, DeAndre (Levy) and all them to go out like that, but you live and you learn. So trials and tribulations, you got to work from them.
Was there any sort of team chemistry problems last year at all?
Valai: No, we all had plenty of respect for each other, it's just, I think we were just too up and down. Momentum is a strong thing for our team. When we were up, we were up. Then when we were down, boy did it turn. Florida State for instance, I believe it was 13-6 with four minutes to go in the third quarter, then I look up with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and it was 42-6. So, momentum, that's got to calm down.
Do you got a reputation around the league now entering the season?
Valai: I hope I do, if I don't I'm going to keep adding on to it hopefully. Everyday, you've got to keep coming with it. Like I said, you are who you play like. So just going out there, playing physical and using that mentality, I hope I gain something from it.
Who do you like to watch as far as hitters? Is there a guy that you try to emulate out there?
Valai: Brian Dawkins, animal. I'm a Cowboy fan so I don't want anybody in Dallas to kill me for that, but Brian Dawkins, Bob Sanders, Troy Polamalu, just people where the intensity level is the main thing. Ed Reed, for safeties like that, too. That's a major thing for me.
Everybody does the hitting, but the technique
.is that something you're striving to?
Valai: If you're not getting good technically, you're going to get caught eventually. Technique takes you to the next level. A lot of the guys in the NFL, from what I've heard from different NFL people or players I've talked to, they said some players in the NFL aren't the best athletes. They are just great technique players, so that takes your game to the next level really.
Going back to the physicality, in spring ball, when you're not tackling (at the time of the interview), how hard is it to hold back?
Valai: It's hard. It's painful sometimes. But you got to realize and look at the big picture. We're trying to get ready for fall to be honest. We're trying to get everyone safe, too. Injuries are a major problem last year for our team last year too. You see Travis (Beckum) going down, major weapons like that, you don't want to have happen. So it is what it is.
How is your injury right now?
Valai: It's getting better, I had a hernia surgery about eight weeks now. I had double hernia surgery. It's getting a lot better. It is what it is with a hole in your back, but I'm dying to play.
Did it really restrict your lifting?
Valai: Yeah, it restricted me for about four weeks of lifting. I still had to be there so that was just terrible, just watching people lift and not getting better. It's just killing my mind and grinding my head.
Are you going to have to make up for that after this spring?
Valai: Oh yeah. I'm about 200 right now. My goal is to get to about 207 by the season so my body can sustain all the fun on the football field so that's the goal.
What are you trying to get done this year?
Valai: I think leadership is the major thing and also, I want to get better in the passing game, especially as a free safety. In man, I'm pretty good, but I want to be good as the deep safety back there and be able to break on balls and be a ball hawk like Shane Carter was last year and two years ago. So, I want to be an all-around football player, not just a hitter. Once people know you are a hitter, that light starts getting put on you in pass coverage, Roy Williams and stuff like that.
The things you guys are doing left and right now and the whole defense instead of strong and free and even the linebackers, how is that going to help?
Valai: It's good, because you can play both positions like you said free and strong instead of just one spot. You look at the NFL, Bob Sanders plays free. They rotate, like Jimmy (Jim Leonhard) and Ed Reed did last year. They'll come down on fourth.
Is it going to help with limiting mistakes, does it make it a little simpler?
Valai: Yeah, I mean, we don't have to freak out if someone just motions across the field. So, everybody can play every position like that at every spot and be confident at it, it's going to take our game to another level.
Coach Dave Doeren says he is emphasizing the fundamentals and getting that stuff pre-snap and not making any mistakes. Is that a big thing this spring?
Valai: Communication, communication is everything. You got to live by it because you don't have to be the best team in the world, the most talented team in the world to win. If you communicate and everyone is on the same page, you'll live to see another day and you'll continue to play good football.
Is that one of the lessons you learned from last year?
Valai: It's a major lesson from last year. Live to see another day, don't always go for the big hit. It seemed like I was either hit or miss sometimes. So, I mean you've got to calm down as a member of the secondary.
As a member of the secondary, has anybody on the offense stood out to you?
Valai: Isaac Anderson has been moving. As far as two days, he was chopping out here, the first three days really. No, he had hernia surgery too. Isaac has been moving real well. Nick Toon has been moving real well. Clay (John Clay) is Clay and Zach Brown. Budmayr (Jon Budmayr) has a pretty good arm and Curt Phillips is throwing the ball pretty well too. Those guys, in my eyes have stood out a lot. Lance Kendricks too because he's a robot.
I'm sure they asked you about your first day back when coach had to pull you out right away. Was that just some pent up frustration or just your first hit in?
Valai: Like I said, I'm A.D.D. on the football field. Before I could say, 'eh, get out.' 'But
' 'Get out.' So it is what it is, but I respect what coach is doing. I know they are doing what's best for me.
You guys are really working to cut back penalties. Anytime someone jumps, it's right out isn't it? I know you missed the pitch, you had to do push-ups.
Valai: Once again, calm down and don't try to kill everybody. I just came down full speed and I looked at the quarterback and the ball's inside and I didn't realize how far I was outside. Just stuff like that, they're really emphasizing the fundamentals which can help us out down the line, like I said before, because that takes your game to the next level.
Do you guys think you will cut down on penalties this year?
Valai: We better, otherwise coach Doeren is going to be yanking you out, and you out and you out. You better learn or you're going to be out of the game. One of the two.
Is that setting the tone that no mistakes are tolerated?
Valai: Yeah, coach Doeren treats everybody the same. That's one thing I respect a lot. If you make a mistake, you're going to get pulled or get yelled at, one of the two. That says a lot about coach Doeren.
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