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Badgers football: Jordan Kohout tackles career change

2012-09-05T05:00:00Z Badgers football: Jordan Kohout tackles career changeTOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 madison.com

It was the music that got to him.

Former University of Wisconsin defensive tackle Jordan Kohout had spent a couple of months dealing with the reality that his football career had ended prematurely due to health issues related to migraine headaches.

After some reservations, he accepted UW coach Bret Bielema's offer to help coach as a student assistant. After spending time by himself at home in Waupun, Kohout rejoined his teammates about two weeks before the opener against Northern Iowa.

The Badgers were going through a mock game inside Camp Randall Stadium prior to the first game when the normal pregame music started to play.

"I was kind of getting hyped like I always do," Kohout said. "The music starts going and you get in that zone. I felt myself doing the same thing."

Kohout mentioned it to another former UW defensive lineman, Ross Kolodziej, who is working as a graduate assistant with the team after a seven-year NFL career.

"I told him, 'Man, it's crazy not being able to play,'" Kohout said. "He said, 'I still think about it, too.' It's such a big part of your life."

Kohout has managed to come to grips with the awful news, announced in July, that his football career was over after discovering he endured two "microstrokes" during spring practices.

"I've kind of had bittersweet moments," he said, noting the start of camp was one of them. "When you think about it, it's kind of like, 'Wow, I have time to do what I like.' At the same time, I played football since seventh grade. In the fall, you're always doing something. It was weird not having that."

So, Kohout focused on himself. He lost about 40 pounds, down to 255, with a goal to reach 240. He started eating healthier and is wrapping up his sociology degree this fall and looking into graduate school.

And he's got coaching, too, doing what he can to provide pointers to the guys he used to be next to in the trenches.

"He's a guy who has handled his situation about as well as anyone can," junior defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said. "Young guys can learn a lot from him. What he's doing for us in the film room and on the practice field is really helpful for everyone."

Catching it early

The problems for Kohout began in the first practice after spring break, when he started experiencing a migraine headache. He had endured them only a couple of times previously and just once in his three years at UW.

"I started to see all of these lights, thought I was starting to have a migraine," Kohout said.

After that, whenever Kohout tried to return to practice, the same thing happened. He went for an MRI and it was determined he had suffered two small strokes. The migraines, which were linked to the hits he was taking in practice, were constricting blood vessels in his brain, causing the strokes.

He was told by doctors there was a 5 percent chance of more strokes if he continued playing.

"The percentages seem small, but when you're out there taking hits every play, not just the games but in practice ... it's basically one in 20 hits," said Steve Kohout, who is Jordan's dad.

They went to another doctor for a second opinion, but even before that, Jordan Kohout started to realize his playing days were over. He told his dad in a phone call after a class in the spring, followed by a tearful meeting with defensive line coach Charlie Partridge.

The message from everyone around him was the same: They were thankful the condition was caught before something worse happened. Since quitting football, Kohout has had no more migraines or any other health concerns.

Kohout was thankful the people around him, including his parents, let him make his own decision.

"Every parent is going to say, 'Don't play,''' Steve Kohout said. "It had to be his decision. Nobody can do that for him, because then you're going to have regrets."

Thankful 'retirement'

It's hard to overstate how much playing at UW meant to Kohout.

"I'll always be passionate about Wisconsin," he said. "I love this place so much, the work ethic, the team, the spirit of selflessness, the emphasis on teamwork and character."

But as important as football was to him, it was never Kohout's complete identity. That healthy perspective has served him well in "retirement." He has an inquisitive mind and loves to read. He has always been a serious student.

He is not certain yet where the coaching path will lead him, but he'd love to catch on somewhere next season as a graduate assistant.

He has plenty to be thankful for in his career as a key member of two Rose Bowl teams.

He sounded wistful, talking about a conversation with Hemer and junior Beau Allen, the starting defensive tackles, before the opener.

"We were talking about how much fun we were going to have this season," Kohout said. "Us three were kind of going to be the big dogs in the middle."

Kohout paused, the memories of his playing career still fresh and colliding with his current role as coach.

"It's crazy because they're my boys, I love all my D-line guys," he continued. "I was looking forward to having a lot of fun with these guys. I'll still be able to have fun with them."

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(3) Comments

  1. madtownbarry
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    madtownbarry - September 05, 2012 11:22 pm
    With these brain injuries maybe we should stop playing the sport! Some poor young youth from Waupun has permenant brain damage from freshman football. Another one or two just on our college team over a few years. How many others have we not heard about? I have to think one life saved is worth it as the sport is getting way too dangerous.
  2. tjwitthun
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    tjwitthun - September 05, 2012 6:30 pm
    A story that hits so close to home, not just because he's from Waupun, but because I have a freshman in high school that received his first concussion last year in football. He only attended half days of school last year and now has permenant brain damage that has affected his long term memory and math skills. My sons football playing days are over but he has focused on managing the team to stay close to the game he loves. Jordan's story is so sad, but a story that I can share with my son and show him that he too can make a difference on the sidelines.
  3. Davisra
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    Davisra - September 05, 2012 8:06 am
    It's sad that Jordan's football playing career ended prematurely, but thankfully he'll have a college degree & other options down the road. Reminds me of Kirk DeCremer - the outstanding defensive player from Verona who suffered a career-ending back injury & who is now pursuing dental school. I'm glad both players were able to make the tough choice to leave the game before permanent injury made things worse for them.

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