Here, there, and everywhere: Troy Fumagalli is bringing the sexy back to the Wisconsin Badgers tight end corps
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The stopwatch doesn’t lie, but it does demand vetting. Or a second opinion. Or vodka. The report posted over at NFLDraftScout.com says that, on a good day, Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli runs a 4.74 in the 40-yard dash.
So, based on eye test at Lambeau Field, either:
a.) Saturday against LSU was one of those ‘good’ days, or;
b.) NFLDraftScout.com is full of moose droppings.
“Coach (Paul) Chryst likes to use the tight end,” Fumagalli said after leading everybody in the park in catches (seven) and receiving yards (100) during the Badgers’ 16-14 victory. “He expects his tight end to be a special part of the offense. (I) just (try to) do the most I can and be someone.”
If Week 1 was any harbinger, the dude might be someone exceptional. A Hummer frame (6-foot-6, 248 pounds) with Kawasaki Ninja quicks, Fumagalli spent the afternoon weaving in and around LSU defenders the way Jason Bourne weaves through crowds on a motorbike. The redshirt junior rolled into Lambeau Field with 42 career receptions and 500 career receiving yards over the previous two seasons. By the time he was done with the Tigers, he’d more or less tacked on a fifth of both totals to his running tally.
“I don’t want to sound cliche,” said the Chicago native, whose 100 receiving yards were a personal best in a Badger uniform, “but every win’s a big win. Especially coming out on a hot foot. Just starting off right. Just this momentum to build (on). I think we’ve got — for the most part — a younger team, and we can use that momentum coming forward.”
Momentum floats. Clutch soars. Of Fumagalli’s seven grabs, six went for first downs against the Tigers. The junior turned all three of his catches on second and third down into first downs, averaging 10 yards per grab during those situations. And six of his seven grabs came when Wisconsin was either tied or trailing, with five of those six accounting for a first down.
“I think (with) resiliency, we need to have all those characteristics if we want to be great,” Fumagalli said. “And we just went out there and we just kept playing. You know, ‘Next play, next play.’ You can’t control the past, so, you know, just forget about it. Make the play, and that’s it.”
He wound up making several. On the eight-play, 48-yard drive that started with 8:14 left in the contest and set up the game-deciding field goal, Fumagalli took a first-and-10 pass at the Badgers 33 for a 20-yard gain into LSU territory.
Shortly after that, he took a first-and-20 toss from the Tigers 43 for 11 yards; It was the tight end’s only reception of the day that didn’t account for a first down, but it got Wisconsin into kicking range.
“Everybody just kept fighting,” Fumagalli said. “We felt, for the most part, we were controlling that game. (We said), ‘Just keep fighting, we know we can do it,’ just things like that.”
Chryst likes his tight ends with the kind of passion your friendly neighborhood Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle reserves for pizzas. He coached the position with the San Diego Chargers from 1999 to 2001. He was the Badgers’ tight end coach and co-offensive coordinator in 2005 and offensive coordinator, period, from 2006 to 2011.
From 2006 to 2012, the Big Ten’s all-conference first or second team included at least one Wisconsin representative at tight end — a lineage that ran from Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham to Lance Kendricks and Jacob Pedersen.
“I thought there were a couple of other ones (with Fumagalli) we might’ve been able to get on them,” Chryst said after the contest. “But I think that’s where he’s at in his development.
“I don’t want to say he needs to be that guy, but for us to be as good as we can be, Fume has to make plays.”
More than that, he has to make a point: What’s old is new again, and Madison looks all the better for it.
And if you don’t believe in the wheels, believe in the chassis. As a sophomore in 2015, Fumagalli played with a cast but still toughed out 28 grabs for 313 yards (11.2 per catch) and a score. He’d injured his ankle during last fall’s preseason camp and recently got his right hand stepped on by a teammate in the end zone, leaving a gash that required 30 stitches to close.
“You want to make plays, you want to help out those teammates,” Fumagalli said. “Just stuff like that. I definitely want to help those guys out.”
Especially first-time starter Bart Houston at quarterback, his roommate for two years on the road, a guy who needs all the friends — and options — he can get.
“Me and Bart have been working together (for) a little bit now,” Fumagalli said. “Even when I came in there, working with the second team and third team, we feel really comfortable with each other.”
It showed. Saturday’s ‘good’ day was the first 100-yard receiving game by a Badgers tight end since 2010, the kind of line that led a reporter to ask later: Did you think you’d be featured?
“Sort of,” Fumagalli said, grinning mischievously. “Here and there.”
Here. There. Everywhere.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler