Troy Fumagalli had to force himself to be patient.
“I didn’t want to rush it because I know it’s a long season,” Wisconsin’s fifth-year senior tight end explained. “I just wanted to take my time and get better every week.”
The patience was required because of a left-leg injury Fumagalli suffered after Week 3.
UW had a bye after the 40-6 victory at BYU, and Fumagalli was held out of the Big Ten opener against Northwestern.
Missing any game—particularly the Big Ten opener—in his final season was tough.
“I love being out there,” he said, “even if I’m not getting the ball, just helping those guys in any way I can.”
Fumagalli returned to the lineup against Nebraska, though he didn’t appear to be fully healthy, and had three catches for 31 yards in UW’s 38-17 victory.
Fumagalli was used only as a blocker the next week against Purdue, in part because he was still limited in practice.
Finally able to go full speed during practice last week, Fumagalli returned to form against Maryland with seven catches for 83 yards, both team-high marks.
“He is a really good blocker,” left tackle Michael Deiter said, “and he catches most everything you throw at him so that is a huge component.
“His blocking ability and what he does in the pass game is huge.”
Despite sitting out the Big Ten opener, Fumagalli is tied for the team lead in catches (25) with Quintez Cephus as No. 5 UW (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) prepares for a road game against Illinois (2-5, 0-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday. His per-catch average of 14.0 yards is a personal best at UW.
“Obviously, he is a nice target to have out there,” UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook said after the victory over Maryland. “Usually if you put it in his area, he will come down with it or do the best that he can to make sure that they don’t.”
Fumagalli’s performance against Maryland was essential because UW had only three scholarship wide receivers healthy enough to play.
With Jazz Peavy (foot), Danny Davis (leg) and George Rushing (leg) out, UW had Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor available.
Not surprisingly, the game plan featured liberal use of multiple tight ends. Of Hornibrook’s 16 completions, nine went to the tight ends. Zander Neuville complemented Fumagalli with two catches for 23 yards and a touchdown.
Hornibrook completed 5 of 8 third-down passes for 64 yards, with one interception. All five of the completions resulted in a first down. Three of those completions were to Fumagalli.
Hornibrook found Fumagalli for 7 yards on third and 3 on the third play of UW’s first touchdown drive. The duo combined for a 10-yard pass play on third and 3 on the sixth play of UW’s second touchdown drive. They combined for one more third-down completion, this time a 9-yard gain on third and 5 on the third play of UW’s third touchdown drive. That drive ended with Hornibrook hitting Taylor for an 18-yard touchdown to help UW build its lead to 28-3.
“I think we were pretty good on third down,” head coach Paul Chryst said, “and I’ll bet you (Troy) had a big part of those.
“We need everyone, and especially they had a smaller wide receiver group, and Fum needs to be that guy. He’s capable of it, and it was good to see.”
Hornibrook was glad to have one of his more dependable targets back.
Fumagalli was glad to be back to his old form.
“The two biggest things are trust and timing,” he said. “A lot of what I do is over the middle and there’s a lot of traffic over there. I expect to get hit and things like that, a lot of trust goes into that. We had a great week this week, all the receivers, and I think that goes into it.”
Does he ever look Hornibrook in the eye and tell him he wants the ball?
“I don’t tell him that, no,” Fumagalli said. “But I think he knows. I want to make a play whenever I can.”