Fifth-year senior Dan Voltz has accomplished everything he set out to do since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus in his right knee against Illinois last October.
The University of Wisconsin offensive lineman, after quickly accepting his redshirt junior season was over, was able to heal in time to participate in summer workouts and ready himself for fall camp, which begins today.
He also realizes, however, that today will mark his first on-field reps in nearly 10 months, and UW now sits less than four weeks from its season opener against LSU at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve really played football,” Voltz said. “I went through summer conditioning, but that’s very different than actually playing the game of football. For me, it’s going to be big just getting my confidence back on the field, getting those reps and just getting used to being physical and playing the game again.”
On top of that, the three-year starter at center must now transition to a new position.
Redshirt freshman Michael Deiter played well in the middle of the line after Voltz’s injury, and Voltz volunteered after the season to switch to left guard in order to allow Deiter to remain at center.
“It was an honor when he said it,” Deiter said.
“I was really shocked, actually. But it did give me a lot of confidence. I took a step back and was like, ‘Alright, maybe I am doing OK at this.’ It really just gave me a big boost of confidence, gave me a little more excitement to play center, that I was actually getting it done. For Dan to let me have that position, it meant a lot to me. I trust his judgement.”
That leaves Voltz with quite the challenge over the next few weeks, though he says the main difference between guard and center is simply the pre-snap stance.
Voltz said he also wanted to increase the competition at the guard position after Beau Benzschawel emerged as a force late last season and Jon Dietzen remains an exciting prospect. Voltz insists he isn’t assuming his long-standing job as a starter is set in stone and that he’s competing for a spot with the talented yet lesser experienced players around him.
His health also remains an issue. Although he’s fully cleared, the Badgers will limit Voltz’s reps early on in camp. Voltz has also experienced ankle issues in the past and wants to make sure he can at least stay healthy during his final season with the Badgers.
“Dan’s coming off of what was a season-ending injury last year,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “We are going to be more cautious. The number of reps that he will need would be different than a younger guy.
“We’ve been doing some work in the summer, but it’s the first time guys are doing football. We’ll be smart and we’ll be careful.”
If Voltz is able to remain healthy, it could set up quite the bounce-back season for UW’s offensive line.
The group was a problem area for the Badgers last year after injuries forced them to play a number of inexperienced players. Growing pains last season have led to more confidence heading into next month’s game against LSU, and a healthy Voltz could lift UW’s line closer to the dominant form it was in during the 2014 season.
“The good thing about this year is that we have a bunch of young guys that are experienced,” Voltz said. “All these guys have played. Last year, that was kind of the excuse. Like, ‘Oh, they’re freshmen.’ Well, now they’re sophomores who have played 13 games.
“With me back in there, I think that should get even better, having some confidence and some experience. I think you should expect to see some good things from the O-line this year.”
— Chris Bumbaca contributed to this report