MADISON, Wis. — Vonte Jackson’s injury-plagued football career is officially over, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen announced Thursday.
Jackson, who suffered a knee injury on Aug. 9 and has not practiced since, has decided to walk away from the sport due to chronic knee troubles. The redshirt sophomore from Kenosha, Wis., tore three ACLs over the past three seasons before his latest setback, which Andersen said was not another tear.
"It looks like Vonte is going to have to take a medical (aid), unfortunately," Andersen said. "But he’s in a good spot. We’ve discussed it. We’ve spent time together. His family is on board. Everybody knows it’s the best thing, and he’s made pretty much that decision as we continue to move forward."
Jackson tore his left ACL as a high school senior during Kenosha Bradford’s season opener against Milwaukee Riverside back on Aug. 19, 2011. He tore his right ACL a year later in the last week of the 2012 fall camp and tore the same ACL during workouts last summer.
During Wisconsin’s media day on Aug. 1, Jackson sounded upbeat about rejoining the team and spoke openly about why he hadn’t yet given up.
"I love the sport," Jackson said. "If I didn’t love it, I would have been done a long time ago. Honestly, the only time I really ever think of it is when I get asked of it. I try not to think about it. It’s only going to hold me back mentally."
During fall camp, Jackson had tried to make the team as a converted safety but fell back on the depth chart. He switched to his natural position of running back when third-string tailback Taiwan Deal was out with an injury. That same day, however, is when Jackson injured his knee.
"I feel bad about it, but I feel good that he can move on in life now," Andersen said. "He can close that chapter and let’s go onward."
New D-line: With the days quickly winding toward Wisconsin’s season opener against LSU, the Badgers’ coaching staff has made an interesting change to its starting defense, moving nose guard Warren Herring to defensive end and replacing him with end Konrad Zagzebski.
"That’s the way we’re going to move into that game," Andersen said. "I think it gives us a great opportunity for Warren to be a playmaker at the defensive end spot in certain situations. Zags moves inside where he’s been very comfortable for the last two days."
Herring finished tied for second on the team a year ago with 4.0 sacks while splitting nose guard duties with starter Beau Allen.
"(It’s the) best position as we’ve seen kids develop, as we’ve seen them grow and be in the spots that they’re at in certain packages," Andersen said. "Now, that’s a package. It’s not all the time with Warren. He’ll be an inside tackle a lot of times, but certain packages he will play in and Zags will play at the nose guard spot. Both those kids have got to be on the field a lot."
Arthur Goldberg will serve as the team’s backup nose guard. Andersen said the No. 3 nose guard might have to come from one of the team’s defensive ends.
Deal third RB: Andersen said freshman Taiwan Deal had earned the No. 3 running back spot to open the season. On Monday, Andersen noted fellow freshman Caleb Kinlaw could challenge Deal.
"Taiwan’s really gained some ground I think the last three days," Andersen said. "More confident, carries himself with knowledge of the offense. Not perfect yet, obviously. But he’s taking advantage of his reps. . . . He would be the third back if we went into the game today; it would be him."
Kickers decided: Andersen declared freshman Rafael Gaglianone to be the team’s starting field goal kicker. Andrew Endicott will take kickoffs, while Drew Meyer will handle punts.
Gaglianone has been the most consistent kicker throughout fall camp and opened eyes on the first day when he drilled all five of his field goal attempts. He made field goals from 50 and 55 yards during the team’s open scrimmage, and Andersen said previously he made one from 62 yards during a practice.
In other personnel moves, Andersen said Jack Cichy would serve as a backup to Joe Schobert at one of the outside linebacker spots. Jesse Hayes will be Vince Biegel’s backup at the other outside linebacker position. Andersen said the fourth inside linebacker would be Leon Jacobs, who joins Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter and Michael Trotter. Freshman T.J. Edwards is expected to take a redshirt season.
Another QB decision: Just as Wisconsin has gone through fall camp in a quarterback competition, so too has LSU. Sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris are both vying for the Tigers’ starting job, and neither seems to have created much separation in the race. Both were ranked among the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country out of high school.
"I think there’s an opportunity to see both quarterbacks play," LSU coach Les Miles told reporters this week. "We have a full game week and several practices this week left, so I think I’ll wait before describing exactly how we’d like to play these guys."
Miles told reporters he would inform his quarterbacks which player would start against Wisconsin next Thursday — just two days before kickoff.
How does not knowing LSU’s starter impact Wisconsin’s preparations? Not much, according to Badgers cornerback Sojourn Shelton.
"They’re both dual-threat quarterbacks," Shelton said this week. "Both can make plays with their legs. I wouldn’t say it’s a big difference. You really don’t know who’s all at receiver. Our whole thing is whoever we put out there, we’ve just got to play our best and we’ve got to make sure we make it happen and that we’re sound on every technique, every play, and let’s hopefully get this win."
More LSU talk: Badgers right tackle Rob Havenstein said he and his fellow offensive linemen began prepping for LSU over the summer by watching game film of the Tigers. He was asked about trying to control LSU’s defense, which ranked 15th nationally last season in total defense (340.7 yards per game)
"I think they’re going to live up to being a top SEC defense and a top national defense," Havenstein said. "They’ve got long, athletic guys who like to hit, like to bring it every day. They seem like a bunch of blue-collar workers, come bring their lunch pail, they’re going to bang you but they can also run around you if they wanted to. A bunch of good athletes out there. It’s just going to be a huge opportunity for us as an offensive line. Speaking more for the offense, but as an offense we have a lot to prove to ourselves."
Added Shelton of LSU’s offense: "Just from watching the spring game you can definitely tell they’re a fast team. They’re going to come out guns blazing. Whoever’s against them, we’re going to have to be ready. It’s going to be a big-boy fight."