Big Ten: Brian Dawkins
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- To understand Jay Valai's passion for bone-crushing hits, you must learn his list of YouTube favorites.
Before every Wisconsin game, Valai, a junior safety for the Badgers, watches "Weapon X," better known as Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins. His video selections also include big hits from the late Redskins safety Sean Taylor and "some Oklahoma State game from the 1990s" where a player loses his helmet in a collision.
Valai's playlist even includes a clip that makes Wisconsin fans cringe -- Tennessee's Eric Berry crushing Badgers quarterback Tyler Donovan in the Outback Bowl two years ago.
|Cliff Welch/Icon SMI|
|Making the big hit has helped Wisconsin's Jay Valai make a name for himself.|
"Even Eric Berry knocking out TD," Valai said, "it kind of excites me, I don't know why."
Valai is developing his own library of YouTube-worthy hits.
He knocked the 'M' decal off the helmet of Minnesota running back Shady Salamon last November and delivered huge blows against Ohio State, Indiana and others. He led the team in forced fumbles (3) in 2008 and knocked out four players from games.
Valai also led Badgers defensive backs with 56 tackles (35 solo).
"He thinks he's Brian Dawkins," cornerback Aaron Henry said. "With Jay being so small and compact, he can hit somebody and it'll seem like a bullet hit 'em."
As Valai steps into a bigger role this fall for the Badgers, his goal is simple.
"Controlled violence," he said. "That's the key."
While Valai is known as one of the Big Ten's biggest hitters, he also must rein things in after delivering several questionable blows. New Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo wants to crack down on helmet-to-helmet hits, and Valai likely will be on officials' radar.
"When he's in on something, he really wants to go whack it," Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said. "Sometimes, it's better to be a little bit more on the side of caution to make sure you've got everything down."
Valai has several explanations for why he craves the big hits, and he's happy to share them.
- "Little-man syndrome." Valai stands only 5-foot-9.
- "Me and [DeAndre] Levy last year, we just found something to be disrespected about."
- "Texas football. It's just run, see, hit." Valai hails from Euless, Texas.
Though Valai agrees he was born to be a safety, his all-time favorite hit takes him all the way back to the eighth grade, when he also played offense.
His team was facing fourth-and-goal from the 11-yard line.
"My quarterback was running into the end zone," he recalled, "and some guy was directly behind him. So I ran straight at him for about 10 yards, took a sidestep to the left and crack-back blocked him. He flipped kind of sideways. We didn't even [score a touchdown], but the crowd was on their feet.
"Ever since then, man, it's been like a drug to me."
Valai wants to keep building his reputation in the Big Ten, but he knows he needs to become a more complete defender.
He was a strong coverage safety in high school, operating mostly in a man-to-man defense. It's taken a few years to master the more complex zone coverages college teams use, but Valai has caught up.
"He always is going for the big hit," Bielema said. "There's a time and place for those things, and those have to be a part of who he is, but I need him to make every play. I want him to make a play in a tough situation, in the open field, be able to get a guy down and have accountability to your teammates."
The über-confident Valai expects to elevate his overall game, but he still salivates when opposing receivers dare to cross over the middle.
"That's just like dessert after dinner, man," he said. "You're licking your chops every play."
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Cincinnati 17 Virginia Tech 33 Final 15 Arizona State 36 Duke 31 Final Miami (FL) 21 South Carolina 24 Final/OT Boston College 30 Penn State 31 Final Nebraska 42 24 USC 45
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State