Greg Russo is not going to get the chance to fulfill his entire dream. But a part of it is better than nothing.
Russo, who graduated from Lake Mills High School in 2003, spent two tours of duty in Iraq with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. He joined the University of Wisconsin football team in the spring, at the age of 25. It amounted to a lengthy audition, with a chance to earn a walk-on spot for this season.
While Russo has rejoined the Badgers, the NCAA has likened him to a transfer student. That means he can practice but not play in any games.
“He’ll never get on the field,” UW coach Bret Bielema said after practice on Thursday. “But he was very passionate about (returning).”
Russo originally attended UW-Whitewater with the intention of playing football there, although he never joined the team. He joined the military instead, serving six years in the Guard, including four years of active duty. He spent about 21 months in Iraq, with his first deployment in 2005.
It took a lot of paperwork and conversations with the NCAA to determine Russo’s status. Athletes are normally given a five-year window to use their four years of eligibility, which started for Russo when he enrolled at Whitewater eight years ago. But time spent in the military does not count toward the five years.
At one point, Bielema sat down with Russo, intent on telling him it wasn’t going to work out. But Russo was so passionate about wanting to be on the team, he changed Bielema’s mind.
“He basically said to me, this dream was something he used to motivate him when he was in Iraq,” Bielema said. “I wasn’t going to take away that dream. I’d love to let him go out and run for one play.”
But Bielema knows he can’t do that, since it would mean forfeiting the game, for using an ineligible player.
Bielema had to do some adjusting with the 120-player roster, to find a spot for Russo, who arrived as a linebacker, but will work with the scout team as a defensive end.
“Our players really took to him and really liked what he did,” Bielema said.
Strength coach Ben Herbert kept telling Bielema over the summer that nobody on the team worked harder than Russo. So, while Russo will get the chance to be a part of the team, he won’t fulfill his dream of playing in a game.
“He’ll get a lot out of this,” Bielema said. “Sometimes, that stuff goes way beyond any victory or anything along (those) lines.”
Oregon State starting running back Malcolm Agnew will miss the game at UW on Saturday due to a hamstring injury, Beavers coach Mike Riley said after practice on Thursday.
Agnew, who rushed for 223 yards in the opener, has not been able to run since suffering the injury in practice on Tuesday. He will not make the trip and will remain home to receive medical treatment.
UW sophomore linebacker A.J. Fenton, who missed almost the entire preseason camp and the first game with a hamstring injury, is expected to play.
Fenton was pushing for playing time on defense in the spring. He could get some work on defense and will also take part on two special teams.
“He was a guy that played in (a prep) all-star game at quarterback, he played safety, he never really played linebacker, but had really taken to (linebackers coach Dave Huxtable’s) coaching pretty well and was on the verge,” Bielema said.
“He’s probably our fastest linebacker, so to get him out there would be a huge asset.”
Starting left guard Travis Frederick (knee) is still not expected to play, but he did return to practice.
Redshirt freshman Marcus Trotter aggravated his hamstring injury, so redshirt freshman Josh Harrison will be the backup middle linebacker.
Freshman running back Melvin Gordon was banged up during the week but has recovered and is expected to play.