Week in and week out, Jon Dietzen must make the agonizing decision to take himself out of the game.
Lingering injuries have prevented the University of Wisconsin’s starting left tackle from playing a full load of snaps this season, and only Dietzen can feel when his body’s being pushed near its limit.
“It’s not the easiest thing to go up to your coach and tell him you can’t do something,” Dietzen said. “But it’s kind of been the battle all year.
“When I come out, I’ve gotten to the point where I can tell myself and Coach (Joe) Rudolph that I’m not really the one helping us. Someone else is going to do a better job than me at this point. So that’s kind of the battle, is being honest with myself and with Rudy about where I’m at, and making sure that when I hit that point I let him know.”
Through what Dietzen describes as issues with his “ankles, hips and other things,” however, he’s continued to take the field. The junior’s started 10 of UW’s 11 games this season, including nine straight since sitting out against New Mexico in Week 2, while rotating with sophomore Cole Van Lanen.
His teammates, particularly the others on UW’s offensive line, have taken notice of his determination to play through pain.
“It’s inspiring,” right guard Beau Benzschawel said. “You see (Dietzen) coming out here every day and grinding, going through stuff that he’s going through, and then you kind of think about yourself, like you don’t want to practice today or something like that. It really puts it into perspective. This dude’s going through a lot more than I am, but he’s still out here and wants to do everything he can. So what’s my excuse?”
Dietzen’s mentality appeared to rub off on the group this season. Right tackle David Edwards suffered a left arm injury during fall camp and fought through it up until last week, when he sat out the Badgers’ triple-overtime win at Purdue.
UW listed Van Lanen as out with a left leg injury on its initial injury report prior the Rutgers game earlier this month before he was upgraded to questionable later that week and ultimately took the field against the Scarlet Knights.
“I think it speaks volumes,” said Rudolph, UW’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. “… I think it centers the whole group on being grateful for how they feel and what they’re doing and humbled by someone else working through some of the things they work through. It’s a good mindset to have and keeps you hungry to go attack the rep and the day.”
Dietzen moved from left guard to left tackle this offseason, a challenging switch that he’s taken to well enough to maintain a starting spot over a promising prospect in Van Lanen. Dietzen estimated that he hasn’t seen more than about 30 snaps in any game this season, and his limited reps prevent him from being as comfortable as he could be at the new position.
He could move back to guard next year after Benzschawel and left guard Michael Deiter, both seniors, leave the program. Dietzen said some of his issues could be fixed in the offseason and others are “just kind of the way my body is.”
For now, however, he’s only focused on finishing out this season by helping the Badgers win their 15th straight over rival Minnesota on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
“I’m going to do whatever the heck it is they ask me to do,” Dietzen said. “I’m going to be giving everything I got, especially for a game like this. I’m a guy from Wisconsin. I don’t think anything’s going to stop me from walking out on the field.”
Rudolph said that quarterback Alex Hornibrook (concussion) did “a little bit” in practice Tuesday. Hornibrook’s listed as questionable for Saturday’s game against the Golden Gophers after missing UW’s previous two contests at Penn State and Purdue.
Rudolph also said Edwards hasn’t been able to participate in practice this week but that the Badgers still have some hope he could return Saturday.
UW’s offensive line named semifinalist for Joe Moore Award
UW’s offensive line was named a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award on Tuesday, given annually to the most outstanding offensive line unit in college football.
The other nine semifinalists are Alabama, Arizona State, Clemson, Georgia, Memphis, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Washington State.
Finalists for the award will be announced Dec. 4, with the winner made public after a surprise visit to the winning university’s campus in late December.