BRYAN FAUST/Herald photoJoe Thomas, P.J. Hill, John Stocco and Mark Zalewski have emerged as superstars for the currently 7-1 University of Wisconsin football team. Taylor Mehlhaff, the Badgers’ kicker, is making a strong case to join that list.Mehlhaff ranks among the elite in many Big Ten kicking categories. He is third in the conference in kicker scoring (57 points), third in field goal percentage (80 percent) and tied for first in PAT percentage (a perfect 33 for 33). His 51-yard blast at Purdue last Saturday, the longest field goal of his career, was also the longest by any Big Ten kicker this year.”I had a few attempts over 50 [yards] last year and one this year (against San Diego State),” Mehlhaff said. “I hadn’t quite snuck one in, so it felt good to finally break that barrier. In practice I know I can drain them from back there, so it felt good to break that barrier.”Not only can he kick field goals with great accuracy, Mehlhaff can boom kickoffs with the best of them. Thus far this season, 30 of his 50 kickoffs have soared into the end zone, an extremely impressive statistic.”I played soccer as a kid. That’s probably how I developed such a strong leg,” noted the Aberdeen, ND native. “I really hit the weight room hard; I take that pretty seriously. I’m also really careful about taking care of my legs. I take a lot of time warming up. I always make sure I’m stretched out [before I start kicking].”Kickers typically aren’t known for their overwhelming athletic abilities. Good thing Mehlhaff isn’t your typical kicker. He earned four varsity letters while play quarterback, strong safety, kicker and punter for Central High School in South Dakota, not to mention his combined eight other letters in hockey and track.”[Sometimes] it gets a little boring on the sidelines. I miss playing quarterback, but I love the position I’m in right now,” Mehlhaff added. “I really like it because I can put all my time into working on one thing, as opposed to in high school when I just went out there and kicked. It’s not as physically demanding as going out there and hitting people.” Being the No.1 recruited kicker in the nation coming out of high school, Mehlhaff had a lot of choices when it came to choosing where he wanted to kick. It came down to Nebraska, his childhood dream, or Wisconsin. He believes he made the right choice. “When I took my visit here, I fell in love with it,” said the junior. “I love the campus; I love the football. It feels like a real family with the coaches and everything. I love the games here. You can’t go wrong with the fans and the student section. It’s such a cool game day atmosphere. Our student section is so awesome compared to the other stadiums [where we’ve played].”Along with having the strongest left foot on the team, Mehlhaff is also known as a jokester. “He’s a funny kid,” said Dave Peck, Badger long-snapper. “He always finds a way to keep your spirits up when things are down.”UW punter and holder Ken Debauche was also quick to mention Mehlhaff’s friendly attitude. “He’s willing to help anybody out with anything. He’s very caring.”Success in the kicking game has been no easy task for this trio of special-teamers. They have worked hard at striving for perfection.”I feel that we’re real close off the field, which helps with on-field chemistry,” Peck said. “In the summer, whenever [Taylor] wanted to kick, I came over. [Kicking] is all about timing. We practice a lot. Whenever we get a free second, we practice.”Aside from being an overall funny, nice guy, Debauche joked that Mehlhaff’s most redeeming qualities are his “nice tight shirts and nicely gelled hair.” But as long as Mehlhaff continues to kick the way he’s been kicking, Debauche doesn’t care what his counterpart looks like. He and the rest of the Badgers know that their field goal and kickoff specialist has played a vital role in their overall success thus far, and they will continue to count on him down the stretch.