Badgers’ Mellusi hopeful he can be ready for start of season

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin running back Chez Mellusi says he has reached out to former Clemson teammate and current Green Bay Packers wide receiver Amari Rodgers for advice on recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Rodgers tore the ACL in his right knee in March 2019 but was playing for Clemson less than six months after undergoing surgery. Mellusi is hoping to be ready for the start of the 2022 season after tearing his left ACL last November.

“I kind of wanted to know what he did, what his regimen was,” Mellusi said Monday. “He told me the things he did. I was really interested in learning from him about that.”

Mellusi, who played for Clemson from 2019-20, rushed for 815 yards and five touchdowns in nine games with the Badgers last year before getting hurt in a Nov. 6 victory at Rutgers. The injury knocked him out for the rest of the season and is sidelining him for spring practice, which began last week.

“My goal is to be available Sept. 3,” Mellusi said, referring to the date of Wisconsin’s season opener against Illinois State. “That’s the plan.”

While Mellusi expressed confidence about being ready for the start of the season, new Wisconsin running backs coach Al Johnson said there’s no specific timetable on a potential return date.

“There are signs that it’s coming along well,” Johnson said. “We’re hopeful that it’ll be here before too long. But the exact date, sometimes you just don’t know as you progress through on that. From everything I’ve heard, it’s normal schedule.”

Whenever Mellusi returns, he will look a bit different.

Mellusi said he played at about 200-205 pounds last season but is now up to 220.

“I kind of channeled all that frustration and all the things I was kind of going through and just put it in the weight room, honestly,” Mellusi said.

Mellusi isn’t the only Wisconsin running back returning from a season-ending injury. Isaac Guerendo played just four games last year before an injured left foot shut him down for the rest of the season.

Guerendo also expects be ready for the start of the 2022 season.

“I’m running like three times a week,” said Guerendo, who had 23 carries for 160 yards last season. “Each time I run I feel a little bit better. It’s been reassuring that I’m making progress every day. Obviously there’s still soreness, but it’s been a good soreness.”

Wisconsin is hoping the return of Mellusi and Guerendo can take some of the pressure off Braelon Allen, who ran for 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last season. Allen totaled 93 carries in the four games that Mellusi missed, including 29 in a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State.

“Honestly, it will make my job a whole lot easier,” Allen said. “Being able to put all three of us in different spots around the field, it’s going to be tough for defenses to stop.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.