Straus steps in as Badgers' fullback

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, September 5, 2013

MADISON--The look on Derek Straus’ face was a mix of surprise and incredulity.

Nervous? Not me.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Wisconsin’s redshirt sophomore fullback said after practice earlier this week. “Preparation throughout the week… why would you be nervous?

“If I’m starting I won’t be nervous. We put a hard week’s work in and I know my plays. And I know my ability.”

Whether Straus, who is listed at 6-foot and 235 pounds, gets his first start Saturday when No. 21 UW (1-0) hosts Tennessee Tech (1-0) is only a subplot this week.

With starter Derek Watt out for at least a week because of a hamstring injury suffered in the opener, Straus is poised to see his most extensive action since joining the program as walk-on in 2011.

“It is unfortunate that he went down and I hope him the best,” said Straus, who was an effective runner and receiver at Waunakee High School. “But I just have to be ready to go in.”

Watt suffered the injury with 13 minutes 30 seconds left in the victory over UMass, while covering the kickoff after Joel Stave’s 65-yard touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis.

“They just said to call it a day,” Watt said. “There is no point in going back out there.”

Straus replaced Watt on the next series, though UW opened the possession with one back and two tight ends. Straus’ first play was James White’s 51-yard touchdown run. Straus didn’t get a clean hit on a blitzing safety, but White was able to get through a hole on the ride side and into the clear.

“I think I am a good finisher,” Straus said when asked about his blocking. “I’ve got to get better with making that initial contact and getting movement. But I think I finish plays very well.”

Running backs coach Thomas Hammock didn’t mince words when asked about the loss of Watt, who was switched to fullback from linebacker just before preseason camp in 2012.

“The biggest thing you lose with Watt is… we went through this process last year,” Hammock said. “He got his butt kicked last year. And he learned from it and he knows how to finish. He was blocking his butt off on Saturday. It is just unfortunate.

“He will be back but we just want to make sure he is healthy so it is not season-long, lingering injury.”

Hammock is evaluating Straus and freshman Austin Ramesh, who did not play in the opener and still could redshirt.

“He’s got to prove that he understands what college football is all about,” Hammock said Ramesh, listed at 6-1 and 235 pounds. “It ain’t just about going in there and hitting somebody and falling off.

“Straus has been with me two years now. He is a fighter. He is a scrapper.

“We’ll have a healthy competition and see what happens on Saturday.”

Ramesh, from Northland Pines High School, initially planned to delay enrolling until January. That changed earlier this summer after tailback Vonte Jackson suffered another injury and the staff decided to move Jeff Lewis to safety from tailback.

“A redshirt is a nice thing to have but for the team I have to get ready if they need me,” said Ramesh, a decorated fullback/linebacker in high school. “This could be one of the only opportunities for me to play this year. Who knows?

“I feel I am big enough. Obviously you can always get stronger and faster but right now it is about the mind, how you know the plays and your confidence.

“Confidence has got to be the biggest thing. I’m trying to build that up right now.”

Straus, who played sparingly in five games last season, exuded confidence this week when asked about the prospect of building on the playing time he received in the opener.

“It was awesome getting in there,” he said. “It was a dream come true. I’ve been working hard since I’ve gotten here to play.

“It was hard to go in at first, but I knew what I was doing and I was confident in what I was doing.”

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