Nearly Running for the Enemy

The unheralded force that makes the running game click, Wisconsin junior fullback Chris Pressley has been invaluable to the Badgers this season, which makes his decision not to play at Tennessee all that more important.

MADISON - It's fair to say that the most unstable position throughout the 2007 season for the Wisconsin Badgers has been the running back position.

With sophomore Lance Smith being ineligible to play the Badgers' five road games, P.J. Hill fighting a nagging leg injury throughout the second half of the season and Zach Brown's first sign of solid productivity coming in week 10, the personnel at the running back position has been a somewhat revolving door for head coach Bret Bielema.

With the inconsistency, however, the Badgers three talented running backs have garnered 2,025 yards on the ground heading into the Outback Bowl.

While that number is a tribute to Wisconsin's stout offensive line, one of the unsung heroes to the running success was in the backfield for all 12 games in 2007 – junior fullback Chris Pressley.

"Our offense really responds to him. If he plays well, we play well," Bielema said. "When he scores a touchdown, you can see the excitement that he brings to our sideline."

Ironically, if Pressley had gone with his other option, the fullback would be energizing Arian Foster and the Tennessee Volunteers, which makes January 1st Outback Bowl a chance for Pressley to show the Volunteers what they could have had.

A 2003 graduate from Woodbury H.S. in New Jersey, Pressley was rated among the top 15 best players in the state by Scout Inc., scoring 22 touchdowns and rushing for over 1,600 yards.

Originally giving an oral commitment to Wisconsin, Pressley quickly changed his mind when he took his visit to Knoxville and the Tennessee campus. After meeting with head coach Phillip Fulmer and seeing what the Vols had to offer, Pressley decided to play for Tennessee.

"I like the SEC a lot," Pressley said. "It's a big, physical league with a lot of good athletes and, at the time, Tennessee had a lot to offer me that I felt it was the right choice."

The choice was right as far as Pressley and his family were concerned, but when word came back to then-head coach Barry Alvarez about Pressley's decision, the legendary head coach, according to Pressley, was not going to settle for second best with his powerful recruit.

"Coach Alvarez came to my school and talked to me about what did I really want to do," Pressley said. "I was about to sign on the dotted line (to Tennessee) but after talking to my mom about what I wanted to do, I really liked Wisconsin and the academics."

With Pressley valuing Wisconsin's academics (he placed second in the math competition at the Coriell Institute Science Fair and was a member of the National Honor Society) and Alvarez showing Pressley that he could become a top tier fullback with a program that highly values the running game, Pressley changed his commitment back to Wisconsin and signed on the dotted line.

"I don't regret not being at Tennessee," Pressley said. "Coach Fulmer is a great guy. Unfortunately, I said ‘I don't like you guys, and I am going to Wisconsin.' No hard feelings or anything, because I know recruiting is a business."

After finishing his agricultural journalism degree in only three and a half years, Pressley knows how to finish his business. But the thing that stood out to Bielema was when in the summer Pressley asked him for permission to spend three weeks in China as part of an educational trip through the UW School of Business.

"I've never had or envisioned anybody asking me to do that," Bielema said. "He came back a lean, mean, fighting machine."

Gaining weight during 2006 while recovering from a leg injury, Pressley came back from China 15 pounds lighter and physically in shape for the season.

But still a solid 259 pounds compacted into his small 6-foot-1 frame, Pressley still looks intimidating and still carries a powerful message.

"I respected him when he came in just because of the way he looks," Bielema said. "Once you get to know him, he is one of the most charismatic, outgoing kids there is. He's a great voice in the locker room. I really admire how he handles his business and I am very appreciative of that."

With a powerful voice in the locker room and anxious to play in his first bowl game, Pressley can't wait to see how his offense compares to Tennessee's offensive attack, especially since he wants to make double sure he made the right choice.

"It's one of those things where it's two great conferences going against each other, which makes it great for both conferences," Pressley said. "It's something you get excited about, being in a January 1st bowl with your family watching.

"It's a challenge to go down there and represent the Big Ten," he added. "It's our last chance to play football against someone for six or seven months so we have to cherish it."

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