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.”

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”