Friday, July 19, 2013

Badgers football: Appleton native Chris Gill takes 'crazy path' to Madison

Having grown up in Appleton as a huge fan of the University of Wisconsin football team, Chris Gill is keenly aware of the story behind Mark Tauscher?s senior year with the Badgers.

In fact, Tauscher is a family friend of Gill and his four older brothers.

Tauscher was set to transfer to Youngstown State in Ohio for his final year of eligibility, wanting to become a teacher.

Jim Hueber, who was the UW offensive line coach at the time, didn?t even know Tauscher had a year of eligibility remaining before running into him at the Kentucky Derby and convincing him to finish his career with the Badgers.

Tauscher became the starting right tackle during the 1999 Rose Bowl season before going on to a successful NFL career as a starter with the Green Bay Packers.

Now, along comes Gill, who spent the past four seasons at Mississippi, including a redshirt year in 2009, prior to graduating.

After a casual conversation between one of Gill?s brothers and a member of the UW athletic communication department, Gill has transferred to UW, where he will be a walk-on center and eligible to play his final year in 2013.

He was accepted into a masters program for Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis on Tuesday and joined his new teammates for summer workouts on Thursday.

?It?s been kind of a crazy path to get here, but I?m so thankful I?ve got this opportunity,? Gill said ?Friday.

The 23-year-old Gill, 6-foot-4, 295 pounds, appeared in two games at Ole Miss, both coming last season. ?

The Badgers have an alarming lack of depth on the offensive line and Gill is capable of playing center, guard or tackle. He will start out at center behind redshirt freshman Dan Voltz, the projected starter.

?Wherever they need me, I?m more than happy to play,? Gill said.

Nobody is expecting Gill to become another Tauscher, but the stories have much in common.

?(Tauscher) is an unbelievable guy and an unbelievable player,? Gill said. ?I would never want to parallel myself to someone of his caliber. I really do hope the season is a lot of fun and I?m sure we?ll do great as a team.?

Gill?s path to UW started with a conversation between Ben, an older brother, and Patrick Herb, the main media contact for UW men?s basketball. Herb grew up in Appleton and was a roommate in college with Ben.

Chris planned to go to law school in Florida?.

?I was already enrolled and about to go, but I?ve been missing football a whole lot,? Chris said.

Greg Sr. and Cathie Gill have five boys ? and the first four all earned varsity letters at UW.

In order from the oldest: Greg Jr. was an All-American decathlete; Patrick was a linebacker who played for Barry Alvarez and earned a letter during the 1998 Rose Bowl season; Ben was All-Big Ten honorable mention in the decathlon; and Barry was a middle distance runner who earned All-Big Ten honorable mention as part of a relay.

Chris desperately wanted to play for the Badgers, but was undersized at 240 pounds after graduating from Appleton Xavier and didn?t get an offer.

?It was a little disappointing,? Chris said. ?I would have loved to play for the home state, it?s always been a dream.?

Among his offers were Colorado State, as well as the Naval and Air Force academies, but he elected to go to Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., for three months to increase his exposure.

The Southeastern Conference recruits that school heavily and Chris signed with Ole Miss, where his dad went to law school.

?He really liked playing for Houston Nutt,? Greg Sr. said. ?We?ve got nothing but great things to say about him.?

Chris played under offensive line coach Mike Markuson for three seasons. Markuson was hired as UW?s offensive line coach last season but fired after the second game. Two torn meniscus cartilage injuries stalled Chris? development early in his career, though he was healthy last season.

Nutt was fired after the 2011 season and replaced by Hugh Freeze, who decided to go with younger players on the line. If that had not happened, Chris probably would have played his final year at Ole Miss, his dad said.

Herb contacted UW cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland, who recruits in the state, after the conversation with Ben. Given UW?s need at the position, it seemed like a perfect marriage between Chris and the Badgers.

?I told him, ?You can go to law school any time you want, you can?t (play football) again,? ? Greg Sr. said. ?They?re glad to have an experienced, mature young man. Chris is a great student. Houston Nutt kind of summed it up when he said he was the most coachable kid he ever had. I think (UW coaches) are looking for some maturity, dependability, someone who?s not going to get rattled.?

?Nobody knows if this story will end as well as Tauscher?s did, but given the Gill family?s ties to UW, it?s already a good tale. The entire family is already making plans to attend as many games as possible.

?It?s a lot less expensive to drive to Madison to have beers and brats than fly to Oxford (Miss.) and get a condo for the week and drink wine and (eat) cheese,? Greg Sr. said.


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