Former Wisconsin player from Arkansas excited for Bielema


ROGERS — When Bret Bielema touched down at Drake Field in Fayetteville on Tuesday night, it wasn’t the first time that the new Arkansas football coach had been to Northwest Arkansas.

Back in 2007, the then-Wisconsin coach was in the area to visit Rogers High tight end Jake Byrne. Byrne met Bielema the previous year on the Madison campus and had already committed to play at Wisconsin when the former Badgers coach came to town.

Byrne played in all but two games during his four years in a Badgers uniform, and he started 21 games at tight end during his last two seasons at Wisconsin. He signed a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints after his senior season in 2011, but didn’t make this year’s squad.

“I was very surprised when his name surfaced,” Byrne said of Bielema. “It’s a great opportunity for him, and I know he will be successful. He has been successful everywhere he has coached at. I loved him as a coach, and I respect him a lot.”

Bryne called his former coach an excellent recruiter at Wisconsin and said he expects that trend to continue at Arkansas.

“He is a straight shooter,” Byrne said. “He is a player’s coach that is down to earth and honest with you. He is very trusting, and he knows what it takes to get a player to go to school there.”

Byrne was one of two starting tight ends in a Badgers offense that looked to run the football first during his final two seasons at Wisconsin.

“The ability to run the ball is what we prided ourselves on at Wisconsin,” Bryne said. “We looked for different ways to run the ball. He brought that mindset that hard work would pay off. We came in and we knew what it was going to take to win.”

Byrne said he plans to set up a visit with Bielema once his former coach gets settled in Fayetteville.

“He will be able to say that he has been to Arkansas before,” Byrne said.