UW-Madison: Gabe Carimi applies the team concept to engineering success

MADISON – Wisconsin Badgers left tackle Gabe Carimi is experiencing nothing short of a dream senior year. Consider this stellar resume:

— Co-captain of the Big Ten championship team that’s destined for the Rose Bowl;

— Big Ten Lineman of the Year and winner of the Outland Trophy recognizing the nation’s best interior lineman;

— And, months away from an NFL football career that likely will begin with a first-round draft selection.

Anything else?

In fact, there has been a quieter success story playing out only about two football field lengths away from Camp Randall Stadium, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering campus. Carimi is a graduating senior in civil and environmental engineering who’s been named Academic All-Big Ten for four straight years.

At 6 feet, 8 inches, and 320 pounds, Carimi has had no trouble getting noticed on the field. But professor Jeff Russell, chair of civil and environmental engineering and Carimi’s faculty advisor, says the off-the-field student athlete story is equally remarkable.

“Author Jim Collins, in his book ‘Good to Great,’ talks about someone he calls a level-five leader,” Russell says. “That type of leader has personal humility but also has really strong professional will. I think Gabe has the elements of both those qualities. He’s a leader on that team, is humble, and he clearly has the will to succeed at everything he does.”

Combining football responsibilities with a challenging degree program like civil engineering fairly can be compared to having two full-time jobs, Russell says. Carimi chalks up his academic success to the same team concept that guides his football experience.

“Balancing football and athletics is very hard this time of year, because I spend about nine hours a day at the stadium during the season,” Carimi says. “I have tried to load up on some of the more challenging courses in the spring semester, when I have more free time. But it’s also a matter of having your classmates and your friends in engineering help out. I have made friends in every class I’ve had, and once you get to know them, we tend to study together and help each other through the work. Studying with engineering friends has been key to my success. Some people might feel you have to do it all on your own, but engineering firms rely on teams and there are always checks and balances.”

Carimi, a Madison native who attended Monona Grove High School, chose engineering due to his lifelong interest in construction and development. In seventh grade, he helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity as his Bar Mitzvah project. He has done two college internships with the north Madison firm Ruedebusch Development and Construction.

Asked where his academic motivation comes from, he says, without hesitation, “My mother. She would be disapppointed if I didn’t make the all-academic list. She told me that was what she is most proud of, so I made sure I got after it every year.”

Carimi is very committed to his family and his Jewish faith. His mother has been to every one of his games since middle school and his father, a Janesville-area physician, has been to every college game and most high school games. Carimi roomed in Madison with his sister, a 2009 UW-Madison graduate and member of the women’s crew team.

One of Carimi’s charitable activities was for Locks of Love, a program that helps children suffering from illnesses that cause long-term hair loss. He started growing his hair out during the 2008 Champs Sport Bowl in Tampa, letting it grow 18 months until it was long enough to donate in summer 2010.

“My mom’s brother died of leukemia at the age of nine, and he’s been brought up a lot in my family,” says Carimi. “He has not been forgotten, even though I have never met him. I just thought it was something that wouldn’t take a lot of my time but would help other people.”

Carimi also fasts during Yom Kippur each year, even if it conflicts with the football schedule. This season, for example, he fasted for 24 hours before the Arizona State game, choosing to follow “Israeli time” and fast from noon to noon rather than the traditional sundown to sundown. “It’s kind of weird, because you’re not in the football mindset (after fasting),” he says. “You’re not on your ‘A’ game. But it’s something I believe in and I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”

Carimi is clearly excited about his professional football future and plans to do intensive training for both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine. He will be working with some specific technique coaches and will be prepared to answer any questions teams have about his game. “The Senior Bowl is not just a game because the scouts are at every practice, so you really need to perform for five straight days,” he says.

He’s also in discussions with Russell about his senior capstone design project, which will apply his academic knowledge to a real-world engineering problem. The two are looking at some creative options, given the amount of travel awaiting Carimi during spring semester.

For Carimi, his impending college degree signals both an end and a beginning, says Russell. “When you put all the pieces together with Gabe-as a leader, with his commitment to his family and faith and volunteering-these all play into a person who’s going to be a game-changer and make a difference in the world,” he says.