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September 22, 2011MADISON - It's a relief that Peter Konz can joke about it now, almost two years after the fact.
"I never thought I was in serious danger until the doctors told me," said Konz, now gearing up for Wisconsin's week four tune-up with South Dakota. "I just thought I couldn't breathe that well because I'm fat."
Instead, the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder couldn't breathe well because he had blood clots blocking the path to his lungs. Thought to have been brought on by a combination of significant bruising and a long flight to Hawaii in advance of UW's last regular season game of 2009 against the Rainbow Warriors, Konz had to spend the night in a Honolulu hospital.
"When that happened I felt horrible," UW senior right guard Kevin Zeitler said. "Me, Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt were all making fun of him for being fat because he had side pain. It was like eight in the morning and he still hadn't come back. I just tried to keep upbeat because you knew what he could do. You just wanted to get him ready to go and didn't want to get him lost.
"People can get lost in bad situations."
Fortunately for Konz, doctors were able to get him on a blood thinning treatment that allowed him to make a full recovery in a rather short period of time. But he still had to miss games, including UW's impressive Champs Sports Bowl win over Miami.
As a redshirt freshman that received his opportunity to play on a regular basis only when another freshman, Travis Frederick, suffered an ankle injury, Konz struggled with the fact he couldn't play.
"I'd be like, 'I hate this,'" he said. "I want to be out on the field. I hate not being with my teammates that often.' I'd come and watch practice but I wasn't a part of it. Kevin was one of the people I would go to. I'd be like, 'This sucks. What should I do?'
"He'd be like, 'Keep working hard because you'll be back next year.' Kevin was the voice of reason if you will."
The genesis of a friendship:
Ask Kevin Zeitler how he felt about Peter Konz when they first met and he'll be honest with you.
"I hated Pete the most," Zeitler said. "I considered him the biggest threat and rival."
Konz could sense that.
"We were more or less acquaintances our freshman year," he said. "Obviously we were competing against each other so there was a little rivalry. I don't want to say it was that bad of blood. We didn't hate each other, but we wanted to beat each other out.
"So we kind of kept a little bit of distance."
Then something changed.
Whether it's the fact that each player wound up finding a role amongst a mammoth and deep offensive line, the fact that they were around each other all the time or the fact that they're each Wisconsin born and bred with a lot in common, something changed.
"We started hanging out more," Zeitler said. "We became friends."
Konz says his mother has a theory about friendships. She says there are A, B and C friends. The 'C' friends are more or less people one knows but doesn't really hang out with that much. Everybody has 'C' friends, but they're just kind of there. You know of them and that's about it.
The 'B' friends actually comprise most of a given friend base. They're the ones you interact with, they're the ones you exchange text messages with and the ones that congratulate you on a good game or any other life accomplishment. Most of your better friends, according to Konz's mom, are in the 'B' group.
Then there's the 'A' group.
"The people who are always there for you," Konz said. "You can only have a couple of those because there are only a few people that can really care for you like that."
Just a couple of goofballs:
Bret Bielema has shared the same story about Zeitler on a number of occasions this fall. He talks about the time when he was struggling to understand something at training table and how the staff of tutors and advisors shared their concern with the head coach.
"He's not going to hit anybody," Bielema would say.
No, Zeitler wasn't going to hit anybody but he would get frustrated to the point that he would scratch his head until it bled. That's the type of stigma Zeitler has to live with.
He's a burly man. He's big, strong and serious. But according to Konz, he's also got a hilarious side to him that isn't necessarily seen in the eye of the media.
"That's why a lot of people don't really know him," Konz said. "People look at him and think that this kid is just doing business and that he's quiet. When you're around him you notice the little things about him."
Like the fact that he likes Spongebob Squarepants, Futurama and South Park. Like the fact that he enjoys playing the NCAA 12 college football video game with Utah as a member of a super conference filled with the No. 1- 11 ranked teams in the country.
"There is a red division because all the teams are red," Zeitler explained. "We were just kind of making that observation. I guess you have to be red to be good."
Then there are the sounds.
Some of them are common, some of them come from movies or TV shows, some of them are just little things that come up throughout the day, or make 'life enjoyable' as Konz would say.
"If you're my friend you've got to love those kinds of things," Konz said. "It's just making goofy noises. That's what I like about him because a lot of guys act like they don't like weird noises."
Imagine that. Two 300-plus pound men, bigger than essentially every other person on a 40,000 person campus, just making sounds, singing, laughing and enjoying their time spent away from the football field.
They're singing Snoop Dogg songs, they're recanting noises Spongebob makes and they're throwing out quotes from movies and TV shows just to see what the other knows or recognizes.
If you were to walk by, on the off chance the door would be open, what would you think?
"You're going, 'What the heck," Konz said. "And then you're judging us hard because we are definitely not cool."
Konz specifically remembers when he held a blocking pad for Zeitler during their first few weeks and practices in the Badger program.
"He was just ripping my chest," he said.
That was already three years ago.
There's an old adage that says time flies when you're having fun. That's exactly what encompasses Konz and Zeitler's relationship. Combined they weigh well over 600 pounds, they have been part of 31 victories (and counting), they almost helped three running backs topple 1,000 yards in the same year, they've won a Big Ten championship and they've got their team off to a 3-0 start with one of the more talked about quarterbacks in the nation working from their pocket.
"I consider him my best friend off the field," Zeitler said of Konz. "On the field I consider him the best center out there. We work together and try to get our double teams down.
"We try to be as dominant as we can."
That may still be a work in progress simply because no finished product is entirely polished by the time week four rolls around. If it is, chances are it's going to be a long season.
That speaks to the work ethic and demeanor each plays with. They both strive to improve their game on a daily basis.
"Kevin really works hard," Konz said. "He's trying to make a good name and obviously try to make a good living. He's a very hard worker because he always wants to be better and make his living situation better."
Zeitler is in the midst of his final season in Madison and his head coach has made it known that he graded higher among NFL scouts than last year's left guard John Moffitt did entering his senior season. Moffitt was selected early in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
There is certainly a future there for Zeitler.
Much of the same can be said about Konz, who is on pace to graduate with a degree in communications next spring. He'll still have another year of eligibility in his back pocket if he so chooses, but he'll likely have a tough choice to make whenever and wherever the season comes to a close.
The bottom line is that this will be the last season these two best friends play alongside one another. It won't be, however, the end of a friendship that's been sculpted throughout the past four years.
"I would hope so," Zeitler said. "I would love to hang out with him again down the road."
That is, after all, what 'A' friends do.
Follow Tom Lea on Twitter @tomlea09 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.