Wisconsin's Jay Valai is still a proud Texan.
The senior safety from Colleyville Heritage has a soft spot for TCU, since growing up in Euless, less than 20 miles from the Horned Frogs' campus.
Valai played with Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder at Heritage, but never made it to the playoffs under coach Chris Cunningham. Cunningham is now the coach at Plano Prestonwood.
“He was a great coach, great human being, and great man,” Valai said of his former Panther’s coach. “We didn’t make the playoffs when I was there, but after we left they did it big, though.”
Valai first considered attending Iowa, but chose Wisconsin instead, after, he admits in full candor, he saw that Madison, Wisc. was named the No. 1 sports college town and that Wisconsin was named the No. 1 party school. (It should be noted Valai was never asked to substantiate these rankings.)
“I said, ‘hey, let’s make a change and see what happens,’” said Valai, who will help lead the fourth-ranked Badgers against No. 3 TCU (12-0) at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Rose Bowl.
“Because I’d never been north,” explained Valai of becoming a Badger. “I got on an airplane once before going to Wisconsin. I’ve got to see the world.”
Did Madison and the school live up to the hype?
“Yeah, all of it,” Valai said. “The cold really lived up to it, too. It was a wake up call. But it makes me diverse and I have better character now in 35-degree weather.”
Valai has been impressed with the rise of the Horned Frog program over the last five years. And as a defensive back facing TCU’s offense, he has a lot of respect for Frogs’ quarterback Andy Dalton.
“He went to Katy, the Southlake of the south,” Valai said. “He’s a great decision-maker and he can run, too.”
-- Stefan Stevenson