MADISON, Wis. Those who know Travis Frederick well admit that he demonstrates some of the telltale characteristics that make up the quintessential nerd.
For starters, he is double majoring at Wisconsin in computer engineering and computer science, a combination of courses grasped by only a select few on the entire campus. When he studies in his dorm, he does so with three computers. And as a teenager, he spent much of his time taking apart electronic devices simply to see how quickly he could put them back together.
The only thing missing is the pocket protector and duct-taped glasses.
"He's kind of a computer nut," said Josh Oglesby, who lived with Frederick a year ago. "He had like three computers on his desk at once. He had a switch that flipped to all three different screens. Just crazy stuff. I went up there and was like, 'I don't even know what's going on here. I'm going to go back downstairs before my head explodes.'"
There is just one problem with calling Frederick a nerd. Nerds don't usually appear in the form of a 6-foot-4, 330-pound offensive lineman for a Rose Bowl-bound football team.
"He's too big to be called a nerd," Badgers left tackle Ricky Wagner said. "I think he would do some damage."
Frederick's legendary smarts off the field are an integral part of what makes him so talented on the field. His ability to shift positions on the offensive line at mid-season and quickly absorb and disseminate information to teammates at the line of scrimmage have been essential to the Badgers' success this season.
"It does carry over to the field," Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema said. "Obviously, Travis, computer science, computer engineering is a pretty good double major. He's really got a grasp of what's going on around him all the time to be able to make the calls at the line of scrimmage. Just being smart in the way he plays, he's pretty conscientious."
Frederick, a redshirt sophomore from Sharon, Wis., became the first true freshman in school history to start a season-opener on the offensive line when he lined up at center against Northern Illinois in 2009. After redshirting last season with a glut of offensive linemen in front of him, he took over as the Badgers' left guard this year.
But Frederick switched positions back to center once starting center Peter Konz went down with an ankle injury against Minnesota on Nov. 12. Teammate Ryan Groy had been the original replacement for Konz, but when he struggled on consecutive snaps the following week against Illinois, coaches immediately moved Frederick to center mid-game.
The results have been nothing short of seamless, with Wisconsin winning every game with Frederick at center.
"I had no doubt that he could do it from the beginning," Konz said. "His footwork and everything that he does, he's just phenomenal. He's really strong, obviously. You hear he has a 700-pound squat max. He can do it all. There was no doubt in my mind when I went down that he was going to fill in fine."
Frederick, whose play is beginning to draw the interest of NFL scouts, described playing guard as physically tougher, while playing center required more mental strength.
"As a center, you're the general," Frederick said. "It's your job to call everything out, make the adjustments, see all sorts of things on the defense and be able to read that. As a guard, your job is to give alerts to the center and make a few adjustments. They each provide their own challenges. One's not necessarily harder than the other."
Maybe not for a guy like Frederick, a National Honor Society member in high school whose smarts have always come naturally.
"His mind just works faster than most people," Wagner said.
Frederick said he enrolled at Wisconsin with the intention of studying aerospace engineering and designing airplanes. When he discovered the school's program did not interest him, he instead sought out computer science and computer engineering.
He studies computer programming, user interface and web development as well as how electrons flow through wires to make decisions. Though Frederick is undecided of his career plans, he said he might like to build computer chips or work as an information technology consultant in the business world or design custom computer applications for businesses.
"It's really a broad gamut of things, but it's exciting," Frederick said. "It's different."
So is Frederick. But at Wisconsin, that's a good thing both on and off the field. Certainly, if a pro football career doesn't work out, he'll be just fine.
"He'd probably win a Nobel Prize or something if he wasn't a football player," Oglesby said. "The kid's a genius."Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter