Flasch forward

Linebacker left a scholarship behind at UNLV to walk on with Wisconsin and compete for playing time

MADISON — Ryan Flasch transferred to the University of Wisconsin last summer with little fanfare, despite leaving behind a scholarship at UNLV and a chance to be the Rebels' starting middle linebacker.

Now in his first spring practices with the Badgers and completely recovered from an injury that troubled him for about a year-and-a-half, Flasch, a Germantown, Wis., native, is hoping to make some noise in Wisconsin's linebacker competition.

The simple reality that Flasch had transferred was not apparent until December, when his name first appeared in a UW media release. He still was not listed on the official roster, but there it was – "Ryan Flasch" – designated as the scout team defensive player of the week for the Badgers' preparation to face Hawaii in the last regular season game of 2005.

Flasch (6-foot-1, 221 pounds) signed with the Rebels out of Germantown High School two years ago, with the potential for early playing time. He liked UNLV coach John Robinson and the team's linebacker-friendly 3-4 defense, which had just produced NFL-bound linebacker Adam Seward.

An all-state linebacker and all-conference fullback, Flasch said he was heavily recruited by former Wisconsin linebackers coach Kevin Cosgrove, but once the latter left for Nebraska in December 2003, then-running backs coach Brian White picked up the Badgers' recruiting effort and began courting Flasch to play fullback. But UW never offered a scholarship and UNLV gave him the opportunity he desired: to play linebacker.

"I wasn't too sure about fullback," Flasch said. "UNLV gave me a scholarship at linebacker. There were a few other schools and I just kind of took the best opportunity to get on the field. UNLV was a great chance to get on the field."

Flasch helped lead Germantown to a Division 2 state championship in November 2003. He ran for 155 yards on 12 carries in the title game, including touchdown runs of 19 and 53 yards. All told in his senior season, Flasch had 885 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing on just 133 carries. Defensively, he had 168 tackles and at least 29 tackles for loss.

In the spring of 2004, however, the two-way football workhorse suffered a sports hernia while sprinting in a prep track meet.

"Just running an 100 and… my stomach just popped out of nowhere," Flasch said.

As the proceeding months turned to a year and more, he saw "about 10 different doctors." In the fall of his freshman year, UNLV flew him to Canada see a specialist he would end up visiting three times.

"Almost my whole time at UNLV… I was always battling with it," Flasch said.

His first year in Las Vegas was the last for head coach John Robinson, who was succeeded by Mike Sanford.

"(I) didn't really like where the program was headed," Flasch said. "And obviously Wisconsin's had a lot of success. I just want to be part of a winning program, (and) come back home."

Last summer, Bret Bielema, UW's then-defensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting, gave Flasch the opportunity to walk on, and potentially earn a scholarship down the road.

"Coach B gave me the invitation," Flasch said. "‘If you want to come back home, you are more than welcome to play for us.'"

"I saw a good opportunity here so I just took it," he said.

The sports hernia, though, was still troubling Flasch. He had participated in UNLV's spring drills after taking a redshirt the previous fall, and was competing with Dan Catalano (the brother of former Badger Chris Catalano) for the starting middle linebacker job. But he was still feeling the effects of the injury, despite his frequent doctor visits.

When he came home last summer, his uncle, who is a surgeon in Milwaukee, recommended a specialist in Milwaukee.

"So I went in and talked to him, and he actually did the same surgery on DeAndre Levy," Flasch said. "(The doctor said), ‘You'll be good to go in five weeks.' I was like, ‘Holy cow! Five weeks. And I've been dealing with this for a year.'"

He had surgery in August. "I've been feeling great ever since," Flasch said.

Levy's surgery took place in June 2005 (see story). He was healthy in time for fall training camp and earned valuable playing time as a true freshman.

"We were slightly different cases but it was pretty much the same thing," Flasch said. "So it is kind of nice just to have someone that went through it."

Flasch had to sit out the 2005 season as a Division I transfer, so he was able to proceed patiently with his rehab. He did not begin practicing with the Badgers' scout team until midway through the Iowa week in November. His first full week of practice led to the scout-team honor.

After effectively taking back-to-back redshirts, 2006-07 will be Flasch's third year in college. As it stands now, he will have sophomore eligibility in the fall, but he could apply for an extra year because his original redshirt was the result of a medical condition.

"I could take my medical, but that's a long time to be in school," Flasch said.

Flasch eagerly eyes an opportunity this spring to prove himself, earn some playing time and potentially win a scholarship.

"Mainly, coming back with the surgery, people were kind of unsure and Coach B just said, ‘Prove yourself in spring," Flasch said. "‘Just want to make sure you are healthy, see what you have, and we'll go from there.'"

"I'm not so much worried about (getting a scholarship)," Flasch added. "I just want to get out there and help the team. I feel I can help the team win some games and take it to the next level."

Through three spring practices, Flasch has worked as the Badgers' No. 4 mike linebacker, behind Mark Zalewski, Elijah Hodge and Josh Neal. According to Flasch, linebackers coach Dave Doeren instructed him to learn the weakside will linebacker position, in addition to the middle spot.

"The more the better," Flasch said. "The more chances you have to play."

Zalewski is UW's only returning starter among the three linebacker positions. He is currently flanked on the first team by Levy at sam and Casillas at will, but there is a spirit of competition within the linebacker corps.

"Everyone's real excited," Flasch said. "It is all everyone talks about is how it's wide open and everyone has to battle for their position, which is great."


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