Big Ten: Mackey Award

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The tight end position will be a strength in the Big Ten this season, and the Nassau County Sports Commission seems to agree.

Those are the folks that sponsor the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end. The Mackey Award watch list came out today, and it included six players from the Big Ten.

Wisconsin's Graham certainly has to be a top candidate for the award after leading the team in receptions (50), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns (5) last season.

Both Gantt and Hoomanawanui come off strong seasons, and Ballard told me at Big Ten media days that he expects Ohio State's tight ends to play much bigger roles in the passing attack this fall. Moeaki and Quarless were selected largely on potential, but both men should be key contributors in 2009.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Travis Beckum didn't get off to a great start with his soon-to-be head coach at Wisconsin.

In 2005, Beckum was an 18-year-old freshman linebacker for the Badgers when he sat down with Bret Bielema, the team's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach who would succeed Barry Alvarez the next season. Back then, Beckum didn't know what's what or, more important, who's who.

"I remember the first meeting I ever had with Travis," Bielema said. "When he first came to campus, I think he referred to me as, 'dude.' I explained to him that my name's not 'dude' and that 'coach B' would be just fine."

Beckum learned Bielema's proper title and a whole lot more during the next few months and years.

After collecting only two tackles as a freshman, Beckum switched to tight end, a position he had never played before. Despite his inexperience, the transition went seamlessly, as Beckum earned second-team All-Big Ten honors and set a school record for tight ends for both receptions [61] and yards [903] in 2006. Last season, he broke both marks, leading the Badgers in receiving for the second straight season and topping Division I-A tight ends in yards with 982.

Beckum enters the fall as the Big Ten's top returning receiver, a near-consensus preseason All-American and the Mackey Award frontunner. He has racked up 1,885 receiving yards and covered even more ground from a maturity standpoint.

"I remember that [meeting]," Beckum said Sunday at Wisconsin's media day. "I was still a baby. I've learned a lot. You've just got to realize that everyone's different and you can talk to people one way and others another way. Then, I wouldn't categorize myself as a man, but now I do."

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