University of Wisconsin redshirt freshman defensive lineman Ethan Hemer couldn't have imagined being in this position a year ago.

As a walk-on freshman last year, Hemer was just another camp body trying to fit in. A year later, he looks like an integral part of the rotation at defensive tackle.

But as hard as that leap has been to imagine, the one Hemer has made in the past two or three years has been even more startling.

"I tell you what, a couple of years ago, this was definitely not in the cards for what I wanted," Hemer said of playing college football.

Hemer was a hockey player growing up in Medford and was good enough to play at the Triple-A level in the state. But he kept growing and kind of fell into football.

"Then I just started playing football and kind of have a knack for it," he said. "I started progressing from there. One thing led to another and here I am."

Hemer is listed at 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds and doesn't look the part of a typical walk-on, who is usually deficient in some area. In fact, the first question most people ask when they see Hemer play is, ‘Why didn't he get a scholarship?'

"That's what (UW coaches) told me when I was being recruited - ‘Wrong timing,' " Hemer said. "I still felt this was too great of a place to pass up."

Hemer turned down scholarship offers from Football Bowls Subdivision schools Eastern Michigan and Miami (Ohio), as well as Football Championship Subdivision schools South Dakota State and Illinois State.

"I really had to think hard about coming here, versus getting your education paid for," Hemer said. "I really feel like I made the right decision right now."

With projected starter Jordan Kohout out last week with a minor knee injury, Hemer spent most of his time with the No. 1 defense.

"I feel like I've definitely had a great opportunity put out in front of me," he said. "I've definitely done everything I can to take advantage of that, try and make plays and open the coaches' eyes a little bit."

Hemer did that during Saturday afternoon's scrimmage when he beat All-Big Ten Conference left tackle Gabe Carimi to stop short reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in John Clay on a third-and-1 carry.

"Ethan does a lot of good things," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "He's really good with his hands, he's extremely intelligent. He's just got to play with his feet underneath him all the time. That just takes more and more reps. But Ethan is a guy that will definitely be in the mix."

Even if it is happening sooner than he expected, Hemer was always confident he could be in this position.

"It's all about your mind-set, coming into anything," he said. "You've got to believe in yourself a little bit and good things usually happen.

"I feel like I can contribute. I'm not sure what that role is right now, but I definitely feel like I can contribute to the team."

Hemer has adapted well to the physical nature of the position. The hard part is not just learning techniques, but utilizing them without much margin for error.

"I tell you what, it's so fast," Hemer said. "You would think inside, it wouldn't be that fast. When I first got here, it was so much faster than anything I had experienced.

"If you step an inch out of place, you're beat. People don't realize that. Little things really, really matter at this level."

Serving notice

UW went into preseason camp with 10 of 11 returning starters on offense. But the amount of experience went beyond that.

The top four wide receivers returned, along with the top three running backs, the top three quarterbacks, the top H-back and seven players who had started games on the offensive line.

Yet, after the scrimmage on Saturday, it appears a couple new faces have a chance to contribute to that veteran cast.

One of them is freshman running back James White, who had three runs of more than 20 yards in the scrimmage.

"Anyone that has been here, whether you're up in the bleachers or on the sidelines, it's pretty obvious he's pretty sudden in his moves," senior quarterback Scott Tolzien said.

"Great work ethic, a real humble kid, doesn't say much, just works and works and works. It's pretty cool to see how quickly he's learned the offense, first-year guy and it seems like he has been here for a couple years already."

Despite three seniors and a fourth-year junior among the wide receivers, redshirt freshman Jared Abbrederis continues to impress and might find a role.

"He's going to be a tremendous player," Tolzien said. "He's got a great attitude. He just comes to work every day, it's good to see him keep him getting better."

Senior receiver Kyle Jefferson is hardly a new face, but he caught only four passes for 35 yards last season. He had five catches for 86 yards in the scrimmage and looked like a bigger factor in the passing game.

So, even with such a veteran offense, those are three players who have worked to expand their roles this season, adding more options to a potentially high-powered unit.

"We're going to put the best guys on the field," Tolzien said. "Whether it's an older guy or a young guy, the best guy's going to play.

"It's good to see everyone grow in the offense, even a lot of the young guys, the second-year guys like (redshirt freshman Jeff) Duckworth and Abbrederis coming along like that."

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