Putting Things Into Perspective

From not missing a game in two seasons from not being able to stay healthy in 2007, Andy Crooks' senior season has been a roller coaster ride.

MADISON - Senior Andy Crooks knows that the game of football isn't to be taken for granted.

For that reason alone, running off the field last Saturday was one of the more emotional experiences Crooks has had in his tenure at Wisconsin.

"It's always a great experience running out of the tunnel in front of the screaming fans and leaving the field after a win," Crooks recalled. "It was real emotional to run out onto the field and see my family. Then to upset Michigan and walk off that field for the last time was something I'll never forget."

It was a moment that Crooks will surely mark as the high point of his 2007 season, as Crooks has had little to rejoice about this season, especially after the season he enjoyed last season.

Starting all 13 games his last two seasons, Crooks caught 19 passes for 206 yards and was fourth on the team with four touchdown catches. Being versatile within the offense, being able to play both fullback and tight end, Crooks was expected to be an imperative part in a Wisconsin season with high expectations.

Voted one of the team's five captains to start the season, Crooks was having a solid fall camp backing up tight end Travis Beckum and fullback Chris Pressley and was slated to be the second-string tight end when the season opened.

But as camp neared its close, Crooks felt a twinge in his hamstring that wouldn't go away. Stricken with sharp pain every time he would try to push off the line of scrimmage, Crooks was forced to sit and watch from the sidelines during Wisconsin's first three victories of the season.

"Crooksy was doing a lot of good things in fall camp that we thought could be used to help the team," Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst said. "He had that hamstring pull right in the middle of camp and it's been a roller coaster ride for him ever since."

Feeling that his injury had finally healed enough to play, Crooks suited up and started against the Hawkeyes in the conference opener. Unfortunately, Crooks' hamstring did not hold strong, forcing him to leave the game and watch again from the sidelines.

"It was really frustrating," Crooks said. "The doctors said I broke up some scar tissue, which set me back. I was just trying to get back out (onto the field) and do everything I could to help the team."

After missing Wisconsin's win over Michigan State game and saw limited snaps against Illinois, Crooks put his hamstring to the test in Happy Valley, as he played in his most extensive action all season. Yet again, Crooks could not escape unscathed, as his hamstring forced him to miss his fifth game of the season.

"I knew that I needed to get back to help the team however I could," Crooks said. "Things just didn't seem to work out that way. In a perfect world, I would be healthy and playing every week, but some times things happen for a reason and you have to role with it."

But as Crooks struggled to get his hamstring healthy enough to play consistently, he realized how fortunate he was. Watching his two good friends, Paul Hubbard and Luke Swan, suffer severe injuries that sidelined them for five weeks and the season, respectively.

Suddenly, Crooks personal struggle to copy with his injury didn't seem so significant anymore.

"When they went down, it put my struggles into perspective," Crooks said. "At least I can still play and it was hard to watch them. You just have to take it one play at a time."

With a fresh perspective, Crooks slowly worked his way back, culminating with playing tight end for the first time since late September.

"It was special all around, especially running out of the tunnel and hugging my parents and my sister," Crooks said. "We were all very close and that's when it hits you that this is your last time playing in front of those fans."

Pronouncing himself healthy and ready to go this week in Minnesota, Crooks is looking forward to playing healthy for the first time all season, as he's been waiting to play all year in his favorite game.

"He's a resilient guy that keeps bouncing back," Chryst said. "I know it's been a struggle for him, but he's done his part to help contribute and get the team ready on Satuday."

Walking around after practice with the Paul Bunyan Axe in his hands, using it as a prop to goof around with his teammates during television interviews, Crooks admits that it would be special to keep the axe in Madison for his entire career. Even more special to Crooks would be to chop down the Gopher goal posts after playing an entire game injury free.

"We always bring a lot of fans up there and the atmosphere is always electric," Crooks said. "It's a fun rivalry and this is going to be a big game for them. We know that our bowl game depends on what we do Saturday and that's what is motivating us to keep the axe."

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