Knee-ding Improvment

Motivated by his position coach to play up to his potential, sophomore defensive end Louis Nzegwu didn't let a little thing like a torn MCL in spring camp slow him down. Fully healthy, Nzegwu's stellar fall camp has put him in position to be a factor on the defensive line.

MADISON - Ask him pointedly and Louis Nzegwu admits that he is man enough to keep a diary ... although it wasn't always that way.

In what has been a serious year for Nzegwu, the junior defensive end from Platteville has overcome a serious knee injury and a serious neglect for note taking.

"I didn't take things to heart," Nzegwu admitted. "Now, I take everything more seriously this year."

Always having the raw football talent, Nzegwu didn't always have the mental capabilities after switching to the DE position once he came to college. Having multiple mental errors, mistakes and missed assignments, Nzegwu was called out by his position coach, Charlie Partridge, last year to stop wasting his talent.

With the challenge being laid out in front of him, Nzegwu found that brand-new notebook his coaching staff gave him and started to take things more seriously.

"I've studying more than I used to," Nzegwu said. "I took more opportunity to write in it what I did wrong in the last practice and the extra emphasis Coach Partridge makes during film session on another player. I didn't do that as much last year, but I read it everyday before practice."

With the contents of the notebook fresh in his mind, Nzegwu started to show flashes of solid play last spring until he was challenged again, this time of the physical kind.

Having what Head Coach Bret Bielema called his best practice of the spring, Nzegwu was engaged with right tackle Josh Oglesby in one-on-one drills when his right foot stuck in the turf when he tried to spin, bending his knee straight down and tearing his MCL.

"It would have been disappointing had I had a terrible practice," Nzegwu said. "It just gave me high hopes moving forward. I took all the time I could to rehab my knee and get it better before summer workouts so I wouldn't be behind."

Though he still wears a brace on his right knee as a precaution, a fully-healthy Nzegwu participated in summer conditioning and was fully recovered when fall camp opened, helping to grow his confidence level.

"During the summer, I was thinking a lot about the knee," Nzegwu said. "I just put the brace on, started running around and I was pretty determined. During pass rushing, I just kept spinning, which is what hurt me knee, and I got more comfortable when I knew my knee wouldn't reinjure myself.

"I feel like a better person, confidence wise. I am a lot more comfortable."

Since switching from running back to defensive end before his 2007 redshirt freshman season, Nzegwu has added 35 pounds of weight and muscle and has started to learn from his mistakes, a benefit of being familiar with the position and the instincts.

With his hand-written notes freshly inked, Nzegwu, according to linemate and roommate J.J. Watt, has been able to understand techniques and fix his shortcomings, helping Nzegwu react faster to plays and have better execution.

"He was a little bit down have the injury, but to see him battle back from that and have such a superb camp, it gives us a lot of depth and gives us a lot of options," Watt said. "He's been doing everything to a higher level, and it's really helped his play."

Heading into Wisconsin's season opener this Saturday, Nzegwu is part of both of UW's No. 1 nickel packages (five defensive backs), using both four- and three-man fronts. Overall, he is the third defensive end, behind senior O'Brien Schofield and Watt.

After his unit finished 10th in the Big Ten Conference last season with 23 sacks (and returns only five sacks), Nzegwu figures to be heavily involved in Wisconsin's rotation, a unit that is eager to please.

"I am tired of going against the red jerseys," Nzegwu said of scrimmaging against his teammates. "I am excited for our season and for our depth. We didn't have a lot of depth last year, but we have eight, nine players that can come in fresh and ready to go. The more strength of our defensive line, the better our whole defense will be."


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