When words like “potential” and “upside” are used to describe Izayah Green-May, he hears the compliment while also reading between the lines.
“It’s almost like ‘not yet,’” Green-May, a sophomore outside linebacker for the University of Wisconsin football team, said Thursday. “I’ve heard that all my career.”
At 6-foot-6 with long arms and plenty of athleticism, Green-May is an intriguing specimen. The issue, he’s the first to admit, has always been a lack of weight that made it fair to wonder how well Green-May would hold up in the trenches during Big Ten Conference play.
To be fair, Green-May has come a long way. He arrived at 198 pounds and gained 16 during his first season in the program. As of Thursday, he was at 224 — a figure that changes daily, sometimes significantly.
Green-May, a projected starter opposite senior Zack Baun, is confident he’ll settle around 228 before the start the season.
“He’s worked hard, he really has, and it’s starting to pay off for him,” UW outside linebackers coach Bobby April III said.
April was among the skeptics when he was hired in February 2018. He looked at Green-May and saw why UW and other Big Ten programs such as Illinois and Michigan State had offered the standout from the Chicago area a scholarship.
But April was blunt with Green-May.
“I knew it was going to be a little bit of a project last year and I told him that,” April said. “I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to gain this amount of weight to be able to even come out on the field. The first time I met him, I knew that we had something. But I didn’t know what it would end up being.”
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Green-May appeared in six games as a redshirt freshman, always in garbage time. He figures he got, at most, 20 snaps.
But the departure of two-year starter Andrew Van Ginkel opened a spot and, thanks to a strong offseason, Green-May is the front-runner to seize it.
“I think when the season ended and he didn’t really get many reps except for clean-up stuff, I think he was hungry to prove himself,” April said. “I think he really (worked hard) in the weight room and when he got into spring practice, he was a different type of kid physicality wise and it’s kind of carried over throughout the summer and in training camp. Now, he’s starting to make some plays and starting to gain some confidence.”
As for gaining weight, well, that’s always been a challenging process for Green-May because he has a high metabolism rate and sheds water weight quickly.
Enter UW football performance dietitian Sophie Pomrehn, who has worked closely with Green-May to develop a dietary plan. Green-May has a daily goal of 4,300 calories and has done a better job of staying hydrated throughout the day.
“I have to drink Gatorade and water 24/7,” Green-May said. “Water weight, it just melts off me so fast. When we go down to training table (to eat), I’ve just got to smash it, smash it, smash it until I’m ready to fall asleep.”
Green-May used a nice spin move to get around left tackle Cole Van Lanen during a pass-rushing drill Thursday. But the improvement he showed against the run in the spring is one of the reasons he was able to pass Noah Burks and Tyler Johnson, players with far more experience, on the depth chart.
“Before you can rush the passer, you’ve got to hold the run,” Green-May said. “I don’t want to be just that third-down guy, I want to be that every-down guy.”
Sophomore tight end Jake Ferguson had surgery Tuesday to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. A UW spokesman said Ferguson could return to practice in a limited capacity as early as Friday.
The Badgers can’t afford to lose Ferguson for an extended period of time. The tight end position has been hit hard by injuries during camp, with junior Luke Benzschawel (right leg) and freshman Hayden Rucci (left arm) out indefinitely.