Lucas: NFL behind him and ‘next chapter’ ahead, Urbik proud to collect diploma

MADISON, Wis. – The 2009 NFL draft was memorable on many fronts. Some will remember the Detroit Lions making Georgia’s Matthew Stafford the No. 1 pick. Others will remember the Green Bay Packers taking Boston College’s BJ Raji and USC’s Clay Matthews in the first round.

Still others will remember what happened at the end of that draft. Kent State’s Julian Edelman, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, and West Virginia’s Pat McAfee, now a media phenomenon across multiple platforms, were afterthoughts. Seventh-round selections.

Former Wisconsin offensive lineman Kraig Urbik has his own memories from 2009.

Drafted No. 79 overall by the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, he was one of four Badgers selected in the third round – joining defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (No. 71, Oakland Raiders), linebacker DeAndre Levy (No. 76, Lions) and tight end Travis Beckum (No. 100, New York Giants).

Months earlier, Urbik made a decision based solely on preparing for the draft. He dropped out of school that spring despite needing only two classes to graduate. He did so with the reasoning, “I’m going to focus on football – it’s the main thing right now, knowing that I can come back and get it.”

“It” would be his UW degree in Life Sciences Communication. Urbik kept his word – 13 years later. After nearly a decade in the NFL with the Steelers, Bills and Dolphins… after two years as a high school assistant and another as a volunteer coach at Pittsburgh… he has taken care of unfinished business.

“Finishing my degree? I had to do it,” he said. “It was one of those lifelong goals.”

The 36-year-old Urbik will take part in Saturday’s graduation exercise at Camp Randall Stadium. He will be accompanied by his wife Emily and their two young boys, ages 6 and 3. His parents will make the four-hour drive to Madison from their home in Hudson to celebrate the special moment.

“It will be good to be recognized – to be there in cap and gown – especially to share it with my kids and wife and family,” said Urbik, who has advice for others who might be shy of their degree: “Finish it up . As soon as you get done doing it, you’re really glad you did. I just wish I had done it years ago. “

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Years ago, Urbik was one of the more decorated members of UW’s 2004 recruiting class, the second-to-last under coach Barry Alvarez. He started every game as a junior and senior at Hudson High School and earned PrepStar All-America honors. (His No. 60 jersey was retired by the school in 2013.)

After redshirting as a Badger freshman, Urbik took over as the starting right tackle. Joe Thomas was the starter on the opposite side. In 2006, Urbik moved to the right guard, making room at the tackle for his former Hudson teammate Eric Vanden Heuvel. Urbik started 16 career games at tackle and 34 at guard.

“It’s funny,” Urbik reflected. “My freshman year of high school, I never dreamed of playing college football. Once I got to Wisconsin, I never dreamed of playing in the NFL. That was just never a dream of mine. I thought, ‘I’m not going to be that guy. I’m going to get my degree and go get a job. ‘

“Once the NFL was a possibility, I was all in it. I was all in school, too. But once spring hit and I had only those two classes to take… With my schedule, I was training and I had a bunch of stuff out of town: the Senior Bowl, the (NFL) combine. I just wanted to have a singular focus on that. “

All things considered, it worked out as planned. Urbik was delighted to be picked up by the Steelers, who were coming off a win over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII. He welcomed the idea of ​​playing in a blue-collar town in a tough-minded, grind-it-out, physical offense. Home sweet home, if you will.

Except for one hitch. Urbik needed more development. He was a gameday inactive as a rookie.

“It was one of those things, with 20/20 hindsight, you wish you could go back and do things differently,” he said. “My rookie year, I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t prepared for the speed and everything. I kind of got caught off-guard. So, for the start of my career, I was behind the 8-ball. “

Not for long. Urbik’s opening was getting waived by the Steelers and claimed by the Bills. After starting two games his first season in Buffalo, he became a lineup fixture by starting 42 of 42 games over a three-year stretch (2011-13) before returning to part-time starting status in 2014 and 2015.

The following season, Urbik moved on to the Dolphins and exhibited his versatility by playing games at guard and center. He wound up starting six times in 2016 before succumbing to a knee injury that forced an early retirement from the NFL, which he announced through a Twitter post.

“I am beyond grateful,” he wrote. “Looking forward to starting this next chapter in my life…”

Throughout his pro career, Urbik had contemplated going back for his degree.

“But being in the NFL for nine years,” he said, “just prolonged that because every offseason, I’d think, ‘I don’t want to do it now’ because I was either traveling or focusing on OTAs (Organized Team) Activities). I didn’t want to dedicate to school knowing I was still full-go with the NFL. “

Shortly after his retirement announcement in early March of ’18, Urbik came back to Madison for spring ball and got an overview of the coaching profession (“I wanted to give it a try”). As it was, Kraig and Emily summarily set down roots in the Pittsburgh suburb of Wexford, where she was raised.

But it was clear now that Urbik’s aforementioned “next chapter” was potentially coaching. He was an assistant at a local high school (Pine-Richland) before volunteering his services at Pitt. Last season, the Panthers went 11-3 and captured the ACC title.

As a volunteer, he’s not allowed to coach on the field. Breaking down tape and analytics, he has been learning the nuances of the business from Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi and assistant head coach Charlie Partridge, who was a first-year assistant on Bret Bielema’s staff during Urbik’s senior year with the Badgers.

“Down the road,” he said of committing to coaching, “it could be something I want to do.”

All the while, Urbik never stopped thinking about that degree. The seed was planted through conversations with academic advisors like Alan Zussman and Dave Sedor. More recently, it was reinforced by a UW director of development, David Gilreatha former Badger wide receiver.

Gilreath set a powerful example. At the age of 32, he got his degree last May.

“We had talked about it,” Urbik noted. “Why not do it?”

The breakthrough? The pandemic.

“Throughout COVID, Wisconsin was offering everything online – so what’s stopping me from getting my degree?” said Urbik, who was reluctant to take courses at Pitt not knowing if all his credits might transfer. On Emily’s urging (“She always knew I wanted to do it”), he re-enrolled at UW.

Instead of two classes, he now needed to complete three to fulfill his degree requirements.

“Once I started, I was rejuvenated, I was fired up,” he said. “I took two classes last spring and one last summer. In my classes, we had group projects on Zoom and I was basically with 19- and 20-year-old girls. Here I’m this 36-year-old guy with kids running around in the background. “

But he enjoyed every second, including the video labs in chemistry. All in all, Urbik had nothing but positive things to say about his professors and the teaching assistants. In fact, it was such a good experience, he said, “I’m looking now on maybe pursuing future classes and an MBA.”

Before Saturday’s graduation, Urbik plans on getting ahold of some old friends and teammates. Like Joe Thomas, who has already recommended a good chef and restaurant in town. Like Taylor Mehlhaffwho was in Urbik’s recruiting class and has been working as an analyst on Paul Chryst‘s staff.

Urbik still talks with another ex-teammate, Mickey Turner, who has been put in charge of Wisconsin’s football recruiting (“He’s going to be really good at what he does,” Urbik said). Nick Hayden, Paul Standring and Danny Kaye are some others that he has stayed in touch with over the years.

“I still root for them, I want them to do well,” Urbik said of the Badgers. “I’m happy when they win and now when they lose. I always keep a close eye on them. I texted Coach (Bob) Bostad when he got the O-line gig (Bostad coached Urbik as a senior). I’m excited for what they’re going to do this year. “

Finishing what he started in 2004 as a UW freshman has Urbik really excited.

“It was one of those things,” he said, “that was lingering.” Not anymore.

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