MADISON - The University of Wisconsin will head into their season opener against LSU on Saturday night as healthy as they could of hoped. And that includes at the inside linebacker spot, as senior Derek Landisch is full-speed following a hamstring injury that knocked him out of action midway through the second week of fall camp.
“It’s definitely a good thing,” Landisch said following practice on Wednesday. “I’ve worked my tail off in the rehab room to get back out here, and I’m definitely excited to play versus LSU.”
It’s a matchup of Top 15 teams in the country and his teammates are excited he’ll be out there, too.
“He’s a born leader,” senior Marcus Trotter said. “He’s a very quiet kid but once he gets in his shoulder pads and helmet he’s a different guy. Real serious. He leads by example.”
Landisch said he started doing a little bit of on-field work last Saturday. UW took Sunday off and each day since the Nashotah native has been building up his workload to the point that he’s back to full participation.
“I’m thankful for that,” defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. “(When) he is at his best, which I would say he’s right there, he’s one of our most productive players. He’s really played well. The defense has a different feel when he’s in there.”
There was an initial scare that the injury would keep Landisch – UW’s most experienced player on defense – off the field for the opener in Houston but the Hartland Arrowhead alum tried to not to even consider the possibility.
“That kind of creeps in your mind but I’ve always tried to stay positive and I knew that pouting or even being down on myself wouldn’t help my recovery,” he said. “I just took it a day at a time and really didn’t think about the past or the future, and just tried to get back out there with my teammates.”
When Landisch got injured, it resulted in a variety of moves in the linebacker corps. Sophomore Leon Jacobs moved from the ‘F’ or field outside linebacker spot to inside linebacker, while sophomore Jack Cichy moved to the ‘F’ backer from the ‘B’ or boundary outside linebacker spot. With Landisch back, and a now healthy Vince Biegel (concussion), everyone reverted to their pre-injury positions and their spots on the depth chart.
The move also meant that the fourth inside linebacker – behind Landisch, Marcus Trotter and Michael Trotter – will be true freshman D’Cota Dixon.
“D’Cota is in sub-packages, whether it’s our three-man or four-man front,” Aranda said of the 5-foot-10, 206-pound Dixon. “I’m comfortable with D’Cota being a fourth guy who’s going to get some reps. I think the plan would be they’ve got to be able to knock us down from our (first) three to get to D’Cota, but he’s shown the ability to come in and make plays. We’re confident with that group.”
Dixon was a corner in high school, but is physical enough that the coaches and his Big Brother, Landisch, feel he’ll be ready if called upon against LSU in passing situations.
“I think he’s ready,” Landisch said. “I’ve been telling him all week, ‘You’re just a couple plays away from getting in the game, so make sure you know what you’re doing, because you never know when you’re going to get that opportunity.’ You always want to be prepared, so he’s been watching a lot of film, always asking questions on the sideline, which is a good thing.”
Senior goes on scholarship
A lot of attention, and rightly so, was given to the video showing walk-on long snapper Connor Udelhoven being surprised during a team meeting and getting put on scholarship. Another walk-on joined him on scholarship this week.
Senior Ben Ruechel was told he wouldn’t have to pay for his final year and it left the inside linebacker speechless, according to his teammates.
“He came up to me, and I could tell something was either wrong or something (else),” Landisch said. “He could barely speak.”
Ruechel has never stepped on the field for Wisconsin, but it’s players like the Oconto native that get the rest of the team ready for their opponent that particular week.
“I couldn’t describe it, how happy I was for Ben,” Landisch said. “It kind of felt like I got put on scholarship when Ben got put on scholarship.
“To watch him develop from the four years that I’ve been here. Ben never complains. Never wonders why he’s not on scholarship. None of that. He’s so selfless. He’ll do scout, if you ask him to do scout. He’ll be with the first-team, if you ask him to be with the first-team. He’s a very smart player.
“When Ben got that scholarship, everyone was so happy. All the inside linebackers hugged him and congratulated him. That’s a big moment for Ben.”