As a confused teenager without a direction for his future, Ryan Ramczyk only needed an invitation to find his way back to football.
The All-State offensive lineman came out of Stevens Point High School in 2012 with an offer to play FBS football for Paul Chryst at Pittsburgh but opted to stay close to home and attend Division II Winona State. Only a week passed before he found himself leaving Winona without taking a single class.
“I was young,” Ramczyk said Saturday. “I don’t think I knew what I wanted to do yet.”
He was a part-time student at Mid-State Technical College with interest in becoming a welder when his former high school coach, who was on staff at UW-Stevens Point, opened the door for Ramczyk to restart his post-prep career.
“He said, ‘If you ever want to get back into football, you’re welcome here,’ ” Ramczyk said. “I took that opportunity and just fell in love with the game again. I wanted to pursue the highest level of football that I could.”
Ramczyk, who played at UW-Stevens Point for two years and sat out last season after transferring to the University of Wisconsin, has sure taken advantage of that opportunity.
Stories from Badgers teammates and coaches have built a sense of mystique surrounding the 6-foot-6, 308-pound tackle even before he’s played a down of football higher than the Division III level.
Chryst, now coach at UW, named him the starting left tackle before spring practice began in March — nearly six months before the first game in which he’s eligible to play.
Beating Ramczyk during fall camp last season was an event worth remembering, according to other UW linemen. It happened “three times, maximum,” redshirt freshman guard Jon Dietzen said.
No one spoke to the quiet Ramczyk much when he arrived on campus, according to Dietzen, but “then we went in for a lift and everyone saw him pushing up big weight and everybody wanted to talk to him.”
And his athleticism, on top of everything else, may be the most impressive aspect of his game.
“He could easily dunk a ball, for sure,” Dietzen said. “The kid can do stuff I’ve never seen guys who weigh 300 pounds be able to do. His vert and everything is just ridiculous, so he’s explosive. He’s got really good feet. So whether you try to give him a fake or something like that, it’s not going to work.”
The coaching staff seems just as excited about Ramczyk’s potential. Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph badly wanted him to join them in Pittsburgh out of high school in 2012, and there aren’t many players who earn a starting job this early in the offseason — especially players who haven’t played a single snap of major college football.
That doesn’t mean Chryst believes Ramczyk is quite ready to dominate against LSU in the Sept. 3 season opener at Lambeau Field. With an entire offseason ahead of him, he’s still got time to polish his skills.
“He’s not season-ready, but we don’t need to be in spring practice,” Chryst said. “I think Ryan, he’s a talented football player, and that’s a good starting point. There’s good in him, and it’s being consistent. The beautiful thing about offensive line play is, there are so many techniques, so many little things that are hugely important, and I think (Ramczyk’s) done a nice job of working. Certainly, we think he’s a talented player.”
Because Ramczyk was only a part-time student at Mid-State Technical College, his five-year NCAA eligibility clock didn’t begin until his first season at UW-Stevens Point.
He still has two years of eligibility remaining with UW, and he’s ready to make the most of them.
“It’s an incredible opportunity that I was given to have the chance to come here,” Ramczyk said. “Growing up in Stevens Point, central Wisconsin, growing up watching football on Saturday, seeing the Badgers play, it’s always been a dream of mine.
“I didn’t have any big expectations. I just wanted to come in here and work as hard as I could and see where that got me. Hard work paid off and put me in the position that I’m in now.”
Former center Al Johnson has returned to UW and is expected to help coach the offensive line, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Johnson started for the Badgers from 2000-02, was a second-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior and played seven years in the NFL.
He comes from St. Norbert College, a Division III school in De Pere, where he spent the past two years as the program’s offensive coordinator.
Tight end Eric Steffes (right groin) and offensive lineman Logan Schmidt (left knee) were added to the injury report after suffering injuries Saturday.
Cornerback Titus Booker (right thigh), outside linebacker Jake Whalen (right thigh) and wide receiver Ricky Finco (head) returned to practice on a limited basis, while wide receiver Henry Houden (right thigh) and fullback Austin Ramesh (groin) remained limited. Houden appeared to re-injure himself during drills.
Safety D’Cota Dixon (left groin), offensive lineman Ben Hemer (head), wide receiver Krenwick Sanders (left thigh) and running back Mark Saari (right hand) remained out.
Bart Houston completed 12 of 26 passes in team and 7-on-7 drills and threw four interceptions. One of the interceptions was due to a drop by Dare Ogunbowale, and another slipped out of Houston’s hand as he threw. He also threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Jazz Peavy … Alex Hornibrook completed 12 of 25 passes in drills and threw no interceptions for the second straight practice. He also threw a 55-yard touchdown to Finco. … Vince Biegel, Ryan Connelly, Jack Cichy and Joe Ferguson recorded interceptions. Biegel and Cichy returned theirs for touchdowns. … Former UW running back Ron Dayne made an appearance at practice. ... Athletic director Barry Alvarez said ESPN’s “College GameDay” will take place at Lambeau Field when UW plays LSU in the season opener.