Ostrowski eager for a healthy season

UW defensive tackle is working to reach full strength after enduring a major knee injury last year

MADISON — Eight months have passed since Justin Ostrowski's right knee collided with Matt Bernstein's helmet in the midst of a fall training camp practice. That day —August 12 — Ostrowski went from key player on the University of Wisconsin football team to bystander for almost the entire 2005 season.

He ended up playing five games last season, rotating in slowly before recuperating enough to join the starting lineup in the Capital One Bowl against Auburn.

Now, having taken part in all 13 of Wisconsin's spring football practices to-date, Ostrowski is eager to reach 100 percent health. He is already excited for the opportunity to play this season — which does not kick off for more than four months — to exhibit his formidable talents across an entire campaign.

The freak injury that sidelined Ostrowski — he partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament and suffered a fracture on the bottom of his knee — devastated him.

"After last year I was so miserable," Ostrowski said after practice Saturday. He is happy "just being a part of the football team this year and being able to participate in every game and do the things I can show and just being with the D line and being on the field and playing."

After a brilliant spring a year ago, Ostrowski was considered the Badgers' best defensive tackle heading into the 2005 season. He heads into 2006 with junior eligibility, having played sparingly the past two seasons, with eight tackles in 16 career games.

He has performed well this spring, running with the second-team defense behind junior Nick Hayden and sophomore Jason Chapman — who replaced Ostrowski in the starting lineup following the latter's injury.

Ostrowski is stilling feeling the effects of the injury this spring.

"My knee came a long way after the bowl game, rehabbing it during the offseason, the winter workouts and stuff," he said. "Obviously it gets sore here and there, when I keep pounding on it, due to the bone bruise. But you've just got to go out there and you've got to play every down and you've got to participate in everything and just try to get better."

Prior to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., Ostrowski told Badger Nation that his knee had "flared up a little bit", but he started that game and was part of a defensive line that dominated Auburn.

"At the bowl game I was feeling pretty well," Ostrowski said Saturday. "My knee is just getting better every day. And by fall camp I should be 100 percent. You've just got to take spring to get better and just do the things that coach tells you to do."

A full strength Ostrowski would be a boon for Wisconsin. After struggling to piece together a healthy line last season, the Badgers head into 2006 with impressive depth. Hayden and Chapman have looked terrific this spring and Ostrowski and fellow second-team tackle Mike Newkirk are legitimate starting-caliber players.

"We have four solid guys that can play," Ostrowski said. "All of us have our strengths and weaknesses, and we have a lot of guys that can rotate through the whole D line."

"They are great athletes," Ostrowski added, regarding fellow tackles Hayden, Chapman and Newkirk. "They all have their own positives. They do things well and they get great penetration and make plays, as we've seen last year."

Chapman could still end up rotating in at defensive end as well — where the Badgers also have incredible depth — but it appears his future is at defensive tackle. That likely ensures a four-tackle rotation for Wisconsin, under the direction of first-year defensive line coach Randall McCray.

"We have evaluations after spring ball so I guess we'll know more then," Ostrowski said. "I figure we have four solid guys at the tackle position. We're going to have to keep rotating in and out so we don't get tired and fatigued and just have fresh guys in there."

The 6-foot-5 Ostrowski came to Wisconsin in the fall of 2003 weighing a mere 260 pounds, but he went into spring workouts this year listed at 308. He said he is at 305 now and hopes to get down to 300.

"I'm just trying to be gap accountable and trying to do all the things that coach teaches," Ostrowski said, when asked what he is focusing on this spring. "The one thing I needed work on is my footwork and stuff. My footwork's inconsistent, but (I am) just trying to get better at footwork and trying to do the things to make plays that I need to do on the D line."

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