A Will Stronger Than His Knees

Because of six knee surgeries, Wisconsin lineman Josh Oglesby has gone from can't-miss prospect to possible undrafted free agent. Toughness and perseverance, however, helped Oglesby earn all-conference honors, answer his critics and get back on draft radars.

INDIANAPOLIS – Josh Oglesby's knees were poked and prodded by one team doctor after another at the Scouting Combine on Thursday.

He's used to it.

Oglesby has gone from five-star recruit and can't-miss prospect to a player who almost certainly will be left off some teams' draft boards because of knees that have seen more time in operating rooms than some surgeons.

The top-rated offensive tackle in the nation committed to Wisconsin when he was 16. But early in his senior season at St. Francis High School in suburban Milwaukee, Oglesby tore the ACL in his right knee and wound up redshirting as a freshman in 2007. In 2008, he started all 13 games. In 2009, he started 10 games but sat out the final three regular-season games with a knee injury. He returned in time to face Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Then came what he deemed the "lowest point" off his career: a partially torn ACL in his left knee in the 2010 opener against UNLV. He tried to play through it but couldn't, and he was nothing more than a spectator as the Badgers won the Big Ten and got to the Rose Bowl.

"I couldn't (have been) happier for our guys and our team, but with having had double knee scopes in 2009 and coming back and expecting a huge season as a junior and then coming out the first game of the season and tearing my ACL, I think that was a point where I really stepped back and looked at my career and said, ‘What's the benefit of continuing to play? Is there an opportunity to play at the next level.'"

After a brief – very brief -- period of soul searching, the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Oglesby hit his rehab with a vengeance. Between his senior season at St. Francis and the spring before his senior season at Wisconsin, Oglesby had gone through six knee operations. All of the hard work, pain and perseverance paid off as a senior. He started 12 of 13 games at right tackle and was named first-team all-Big Ten. The Badgers won the Big Ten title again, Oglesby got to cap his career at the Rose Bowl and now he's at the Scouting Combine and about two months from entering the NFL.

"I can't put into words how satisfying all of this is," the articulate Oglesby said. "Back when I was a stupid little 16-year-old kid who just committed, I promised two Rose Bowls, a possible national championship and two Big Ten titles – I delivered on most of them, I guess – we were the last class to be a part of that 7-6 season. To battle and to work hard to get to where we are was just incredible."

That "stupid little 16-year-old" who admitted to reading "too many of my press clippings" seemed like a sure-fire blue-chip NFL prospect, a good bet to follow the likes of Gabe Carimi and Joe Thomas as first-round picks. Oglesby, however, might not even get drafted.

If you think he's down in the dumps, forget about it. And while he heard his critics calling him a "bust," the slap in the face only served as motivation to keep fighting, to keep playing the game he loves.

"I think it's a complete 180," he said. "I think it's definitely a tribute to five knee injuries and setbacks. This year, I was really fortunate to be able to bounce back the way that I did. I feel like I silenced some of the critics that were so strong. You know, this just allows me to not have the weight of the world on my shoulders, as I did coming out of high school, and just allow me to play my game and have fun."

Thursday wasn't a lot of fun as one doctor after another tugged and pulled on a set of knees that have endured so much. The knees weren't strong enough to get him through college, but because of his mental toughness and attitude, his personal toughness allowed him end his Wisconsin career in style.

"It was definitely a hot topic today," he said. "Just worried more about how functional it is now because X-rays are X-rays, and if it's ugly, it's ugly, but they're just looking at the functionality of it right now."

But shouldn't his play as a senior speak for itself? Shouldn't he just say, "Hey, look at the film. Look at how well I played against some of the nation's best defensive ends?"

Oglesby smiled.

"Not so cocky, but just let them know I played the whole year with it and it was definitely my best season," he said. "It's been at the end of all of these extensive procedures, so it shows that there's definitely room to grow and that I'm headed in the right direction."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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