The Bedford, Ohio native redshirted last season and lost a large chunk of the year — his first on campus — to a shoulder injury that required surgery. But before the injury he exhibited a combination of strength and quickness that had lived up to the potential he displayed as one of the top preps in the talent-rich state of Ohio.
Chapman has the size and athletic ability to play defensive tackle or end for the Badgers and he has been doing both this spring. He is a work in progress, still needing to learn the finer points, particularly after missing out on quite a bit of practice time after a shoulder injury that required surgery on Oct. 29 and still is not 100 percent.
But the Badgers will need him to be productive this fall. UW must replace four senior starters and a top reserve along the defensive line and is precariously thin and inexperienced up front, particularly at tackle.
"I love my chances," Chapman said. "I just want to play hard like [defensive line coach John Palermo] tells me to and do what he tells me to and learn. Just find my way into the rotations so I can help the team."
Thus, Chapman, who was recruited as a defensive end, spent some time at tackle in practice last season and has been primarily playing tackle this spring.
"I prepared myself," he said. "Whatever gets me on the field, I'm ready to take on the challenge."
Chapman played high school ball as a 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end and tight end, but bulked up to 265 by the time his first fall camp rolled around. He worked his way up to 278 during the season and checked in at 275 this spring.
"I maintained the same weight but I guess I can handle it inside," he said.
Though he has spent most of his time at tackle, Chapman continues to work in at end as well. "Coach, he still wants to work with me at end," he said. "So I can be interchangeable."
Playing tackle has been an adjustment for Chapman. "It's more reads and blocks to learn," he said. "Your hand movement really counts. At end I was just used to going straight up. But now it is more of a learning experience."
The more acute concern, however, is for Chapman to continue rebuilding his surgically repaired shoulder.
"Basically, the sling came off probably around the start of December. From that point on during bowl preparation I was rehabbing," Chapman said.
"I was trying to build my arm back up, by getting the strength back," he said.
The rehabilitation process concluded just a week before spring practices began, but Chapman said the shoulder is still functioning at about "80 percent."
"I think about my shoulder but sometimes I'll block it out and just play," he said. "I don't want that to get to me. I do what I can do on the field."
Sophomores Justin Ostrowski and Nick Hayden are set to start at defensive tackle this fall, with junior Joe Monty and sophomore Jamal Cooper at the end spots. Sophomore end Kurt Ware and Chapman look poised to become the top reserves, with ends Mike Newkirk and Brandon Kelly and tackles Mark Gorman and Gino Cruse also in the mix this spring.
Said defensive line coach John Palermo, regarding the defensive tackles: "I think Nick Hayden has improved tremendously. I think Justin Ostrowski has made improvements. I think Jason Chapman has made improvements. Those three guys right there are the main improvements. They've still got miles and miles to go, but they've got a chance — if they listen and work hard — to be good football players."
At Wisconsin Chapman has joined fellow Bedford natives linebacker Dontez Sanders and defensive end Brandon Kelly and he knows full well the history of Bedford-products-turned-Badger stars such as wide receivers Lee Evans and Chris Chambers.
"A lot of people expect me to be the next best somebody, but I try to overlook that," he said. "I just do what I can do to help the team and I hope someday I will be known as somebody. But right now I don't really think about it like that. I just come here to play football."