Hegeman Tiedt, who learned the value of motivation and pursuing goals as a farm boy in Burlington, declined to be interviewed for the longest time.
He just didn’t think he was worth a conversation.
As a preferred walk-on linebacker for the University of Wisconsin football team, the 2016 Burlington High School graduate didn’t play a down for the Badgers this season. The redshirt freshman was suited up in his No. 45 jersey Dec. 30 when Wisconsin completed a 13-1 season with 34-24 victory over Miami Dec. 30 in the Orange Bowl, but Tiedt is still paying his dues in Madison – literally and figuratively.
That’s where the goal-oriented side comes in for Tiedt, who grew up on a farm and was a trained firefighter in high school. He reasoned that since he hasn’t earned anything as a Badger so far, exactly what was there to talk about?
But now that it’s all said and done, at least for this season, Tiedt is allowing others to peek into his world. And what a world it is. Since last August, Tiedt has celebrated and suffered with his teammates, whom he has come to refer to as his brothers. And when Wisconsin wrapped up its most successful season in the program’s history, Tiedt very much felt as if he belonged right there with Jonathan Taylor, Alex Hornibrook, T.J. Edwards and a host of others — even if his uniform didn’t need to be sent to the cleaners afterward.
“I take enormous pride being a UW-Madison athlete,” the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Tiedt said. “Being able to have that family atmosphere on one side and being able to have your actual family supporting you is great. It’s incredible being in the position I’m in. And I’m incredibly blessed to be here. I’m always thankful for the opportunities I’m given.”
Tiedt earned the credentials for the UW coaching staff to accept him as a preferred walk-on after a spectacular senior season at Burlington. As both a defensive end and defensive tackle, he compiled 94 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles his senior season. The cherry to this cupcake at Burlington came the following winter when he earned a fourth-place medal as a heavyweight in the WIAA Division 1 Wrestling Tournament.
He joined the Badgers in the fall of 2016 with Kelly Thomas, a second-team AP All-State defensive end for St. Catherine’s the previous season. Thomas has since left the program, but Tiedt continues to try and favorably position himself on a daunting depth chart at outside linebacker that includes Garret Dooley, Andrew Van Ginkel, Leon Jacobs, Zach Baun and Tyler Johnson.
“I’m slowly making progress on the depth chart,” Tiedt said. “I’m about third string right now at outside back. It will be interesting because our outside linebacker coach, Tim Tibesar, is leaving to take another job (as defensive coordinator at Oregon State). With a new coach coming in, anything can happen. I could instantly be bumped up to second string and I could also be bumped back down.”
Meanwhile, Tiedt will continue to pay the price, and what a price it is to play college football.
A typical day for him includes awakening at 5:45 a.m. for workouts, attending practice from 8 until noon, heading off to classes until late afternoon, attending film review for football from 5-7 p.m. and then being at a study table with tutors until 9. From there, it’s a few more hours of homework in his dorm room and then lights out at about midnight. Within six hours, the cycle repeats itself.
It’s a grind that’s not for everybody but this kind of commitment in right in Tiedt’s wheelhouse.
“It’s definitely a tough time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “You have early mornings and late nights and your days are packed from start to finish with classes and workouts and practices, but, overall, when you wake up in the morning, you’re excited to go, no matter what it is.”
Tiedt found the going even harder early in 2017 because of personal issues he declined to reveal. But that’s when he learned just how cared for he is in this program and it started with head coach Paul Chryst.
“Honestly, he’s like a father figure to all of us,” Tiedt said. “He treats you like a son. If you need anything, you’re able to talk to him. When my family went through a pretty rough spot, he sent me a text and pulled me aside and talked to me. He really showed a lot of support outside the boundaries of just being a head coach.”
The most recent football player from Racine County to make the grade at UW was 2005 Horlick graduate Chris Maragos, who is one of the most accomplished special teams aces in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. Whether Tiedt charts a similar path remains to be seen, but he’s already reaping his rewards with unforgettable experiences.
“Stepping off the plane and seeing this line of Orange Bowl representatives and they’re handing out oranges the size of softballs, that was quite an impression,” Tiedt said.
Now it’s Tiedt’s turn to make an impression of his own.