Ten months after the fact, Dan Voltz has realized last year’s game at Illinois — in which he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus in his right knee — was the last football he’d ever play.
The fifth-year senior offensive lineman announced Tuesday that he has decided to retire before his final year of eligibility with the University of Wisconsin.
While that knee injury forced him off the field for the final time, that wasn’t the breaking point for Voltz, who suffered from ankle issues in 2014 and other injuries in past years.
"There’s a couple other things going on,” said Voltz, who had been mulling the decision to retire over the past three of four days. "I won’t get into any specifics, but there are things I’ve been dealing with for a couple years.
“It’s hard. This program’s been a big part of my life for going on five years now. It’s something I deeply care about. You earn the respect of your teammates because of how hard you work and the time you put in here, so telling them that you’re no longer going to be part of it anymore, it was difficult for me. But what made that easy is, I made it clear that I’m going to remain a big part of the program. My role is just going to shift from playing to helping out in other ways."
Voltz also said his desire to live a healthy life after football played a major part in his decision to walk away from the game.
“When you’re at the point when you start thinking about life after football, your long-term health, that’s when you really have to take a step back and say, ‘Is this the best decision for my body?’” Voltz said. "It’s a selfish decision, but rightfully so. You have to make the best decision for yourself in the end, especially when it comes to your physical health because that’s something that sticks with you for the rest of your life.
"That’s definitely something that I thought about a lot making this decision. I’m 22 years old and I have a lot of life to live. I look forward to just being healthy and having a productive life after football."
Voltz was a three-year starter at center but was planning on playing left guard to allow redshirt sophomore Michael Deiter, who excelled in Voltz’s absence last season, to take over the center spot.
Voltz did not participate in spring practice but always anticipated being healthy by fall camp and playing out his final season. The Badgers had rested him throughout camp before Voltz made his decision over the weekend.
With 27 starts under his belt, Voltz was selected to the watch list for this year’s Outland Trophy, an award given to the best interior lineman in college football. He was a preseason second-team All-American selection by Sporting News in 2015 before his season was cut short.
“He can’t give the other guys experience, but he can sure help them through it,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “He’s had to prepare and go through the rigors of a season. That’s why you’re confident that he’s still going to contribute in a big way, just in a different capacity. I admire and respect his approach. He’ll add value.
"What’s exciting for us is what Dan wants to do, his future plans have to do with athletics. He can kind of turn the page and go forward. We had a discussion about that. We didn’t want him hanging on to something, and yet he’s interested in the strength training component and the coaching component maybe. I feel like it’s a way that he can transition."
Voltz, who has already graduated and is currently working on a masters degree, has three semesters left in school and plans to remain with the team over the next two seasons. He also expects to be able to stay on the sideline during games, even on the road.
“I feel like I have a lot to offer,” Voltz said. "The way football’s played nowadays, the mental side of it is such a big part. And having an extra set of eyes at practice, at games, I feel is a huge asset to the group. I’ve started quite a few games, so I feel like I have a lot to offer experience-wise. I feel like I can continue to help these guys grow and just teach them what I know and what I’ve experienced and just kind of continue that path."
Redshirt sophomore Micah Kapoi, who started the majority of games last season, likely becomes the front-runner to replace Voltz at left guard this season, although redshirt freshman Jon Dietzen could also compete for the spot.
UW has just 11 days to settle it’s starting offensive line before opening the season against LSU in Green Bay on Sept. 3.
“There isn’t (a hole) in the sense that somebody’s got to step up,” Chryst said. "Dan played a lot of good football here. You’re always going to miss that. It’s an opportunity for another to step in and step up and fill in.
“Our guys know Dan, and they know what he did every day — when he was healthy, when he wasn’t. I respect and appreciate a ton what he’s done for this university and what he’ll continue to do. … He’s so much more than just a football player."
2016 Wisconsin Badgers football season stat countdown
We're counting down the days until the University of Wisconsin kicks off its 2016 season at Lambeau Field against LSU on Sept. 3.
Every day we'll unveil a new statistic related to UW football that corresponds with the number of days left until the season starts.