MADISON, Wis. — Corey Clement is returning to the Wisconsin lineup a new man, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him.
At media day Sunday, the Badgers running back wore the same endearing smile. The white No. 6 on his fresh Under Armour jersey carried the same swagger it did on last year’s Adidas version.
He had the same black and blonde dreads, and that same imposing build.
What’s different? The attitude.
“I’m going to have fun with this last season and roll with it — roll with the punches and relive the moments that I needed last year,” Clement said Sunday.
There wasn’t much room for fun for Clement last year. He came into the season with loads of hype, and all the talk of winning a Heisman Trophy and breaking the records of his star predecessors was a lot to handle. Clement embraced it — he said he was, or at least soon would be, the best running back in the nation — but he never got the chance to back that up.
A sports hernia, tweaked ankle and a legal indiscretion kept Clement off the field for most of 2015. He appeared in just four games, tallying only 221 yards and five touchdowns.
There’s nothing like a season spent in sweats to give a guy a little perspective.
“I felt like one of the coaches on the sidelines,” Clement said. “And that time came too early. I didn’t want to be in that position just yet. Maybe when I retire from the game, but not right now. I still need to be a player.
“It’s awesome not being in a sideline shirt. Getting hit, that’s what football is.”
Clement plans to outrun most of the big blows, but he said he’s healthy enough to take them as they come. Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst agreed, and said the Badgers are “a better team with him playing.”
The comeback grind started over the summer. Clement was bound — literally, by resistance bands — and determined to return to his formerly conditioned self.
“He’s ready to go,” Badgers running backs coach John Settle said. “Physically, he got himself in a position to do some great things on the field. But more importantly, mentally he’s in good shape. Sometimes, for a running back coming off an injury, that’s even more important.”
Clement went home to Glassboro, N.J., for the psychological rehab Settle spoke of. Home, where there weren’t expectations. Home, where no one dissected his on- and off-the-field actions. Home, where he enjoyed life, one plate of his mom’s chicken parm at a time.
Last time we checked, melted cheese and marinara weren’t helping anyone’s 40 time, but Clement assures us his speed is just fine.
So do his teammates. Vince Biegel, an outside linebacker and a fellow senior, said Clement is the same “beast” he has always been.
“We all believe in him,” Biegel said. “The coaches, the teammates, the people surrounding this program believe in him. It’s just now time for Corey to go out there and do what he has trained to do.”
It took some emotional and physical shredding, but Clement finally feels like a whole player, and more importantly, a whole person—one with the same goals, but new approach to achieving them.
“Football football football can kind of screw your mind up a little bit,” Clement said. “Because at the same time, you have to remind yourself that you are human and you do have people that care about you and you need to reach out sometimes to those people who have been there for you since you were 5 years old.”
For Clement, that’s his older brother Stephen. He has always leaned on big bro for advice of both the life and football variety. This season’s wisdom was especially profound.
“He said, ‘You just have to be smart, and know that you only get this moment one more time,’ ” Clement said.
“One more” is all Clement needed to hear. One more is all it will take.