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Mason Stokke in full force at fullback for Badgers

Mason Stokke in full force at fullback for Badgers

From the Get ready for the Badgers' showdown at Nebraska with State Journal coverage series

It didn’t take long for Alec Ingold to know the University of Wisconsin football team had his successor at fullback.

All he needed to see was the way his teammates on defense reacted to hits from Mason Stokke. That gave Ingold assurance that once he learned the ropes, Stokke would be more than capable of creating holes in the ground attack.

“Linebackers didn’t really like filling the hole against him all that much, so you knew he had the willingness to block right off the bat,” said Ingold, who’s now the starting rookie fullback for the Oakland Raiders. “We had tried a few guys in the position, and once he moved over it was like, ‘Yeah, that looks good,’ right away.”

Stokke, a redshirt junior from Menomonie, is coming off one of his best games at UW. He was a force against Iowa, especially in the second half when the Badgers (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten Conference) used I-formation runs to chew up yards and clock while scoring the winning points on one possession and then sealing the win on the next. Stokke locked onto and drove defenders to open rushing lanes for Jonathan Taylor, who finished with 250 yards.

Stokke also got the final three yards and third-down conversion the team needed to finish off the victory — something he said he hasn’t done since high school.

“Mason played really well. It was fun to see. Certainly had a sense of it during the game, but when you went back and watched the film, wasn’t all perfect, but he was really good on a number of different types of fits,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “We talk about the last offensive snap, it was a heck of a run to get the first down, but I thought he did a great job of getting his feet underneath himself and running through the contact.”

When Stokke missed time this season due to a concussion, his absence was felt as the offense struggled. Now that he’s healthy, he’s looking to continue a tradition of Badgers fullbacks who started their careers at other positions but found success in a role that continues to fade away in college football.

“It was huge getting Mason back. He’s a dominant player. When he has that one-on-one matchup and he has to block a guy, he’s not just trying to block them, he’s trying to put them into the ground,” Taylor said.

Learning from Ingold

Stokke sipped a smoothie as he talked to reporters Monday, recounting the role Ingold played in his development.

Stokke was recruited to play linebacker but never played that position in a game for UW. He redshirted as a freshman, was injured in 2017 and made the move to fullback before last season. The positions have similarities, and Stokke had shown his willingness to hit in practice, so he just needed to learn the finer points of being a blocker.

In stepped Ingold, who made the same transition early in his career.

“I was under his wing basically all of last year as my first year switching to fullback. So, I mean, he was teaching me throughout the whole year. I give a lot of credit of me growing into this position to him. I always asked him questions and he would always help me out,” Stokke said.

Ingold, who’s helped the Raiders get off to a 5-4 start, said he tried to pack in the tips and tricks he’d learned through four years into one year for Stokke and the other fullbacks. He said his learning curve was steep, but knew he could make Stokke’s transition to a new role smoother.

The key was changing his mindset, Ingold said.

“Your whole life, you kind of get burrowed into one specific position, or one spot that you’re really going to make a difference at. Then to say, ‘OK, let’s do something else.’ Once you kind of get over that mental hump of, ‘OK, let’s learn how to play this position, learn these different techniques,’ once you’re willing to learn and willing to put in the work to just get on the field, that’s the biggest jump for sure,” Ingold said.

Stokke played in nine games last season, but mostly when the game’s outcome was already decided.

Ingold cited the Pinstripe Bowl against Miami — a 35-3 win for UW — as a coming-out party for Stokke.

“He was just cleaning dudes up. You knew that he was ready for that next step,” Ingold said.

The Badgers’ increased use of three-receiver packages has decreased the amount of two-back sets UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph has called upon. But last week against Iowa, it was the two-back backfield that helped win the game.

That ability to deliver when needed is something Rudolph believes Stokke picked up from Ingold.

“I think he just taught him how to practice, how to work, how be on when being on was exactly what you needed to do. That was one thing Alec brought consistently, like, man, when it was time to get whatever he needed to be done, done, he was on,” Rudolph said.

“You kind of see that with Mase right now.”

Coming back from concussion

In the week leading up to the Michigan State game, Stokke suffered a concussion.

Given the nature of fullback, a position where collisions happen often between two bodies running full speed, injuries are to be expected. But a concussion is particularly difficult because there’s no clear timetable for recovery. Some players could be better in days, others take weeks.

“Anything with your head just kind of messes with you a little bit. So it’s kind of difficult. It’s definitely something that’s more annoying, because you think you can play with it, it’s not something you can play with, though. There’s no treatment,” Stokke said.

Stokke didn’t play against the Spartans or in a loss at Illinois, but returned to the practice field on Oct. 21 and then played against Ohio State.

Room to grow

After putting together one of his best games, Stokke said there’s more he can do.

Rudolph said that he believes Stokke and sophomore fullback John Chenal have the potential to become more active playmakers in the passing game. Their production thus far has been through blocking and short-yardage running, but Rudolph could see them catching passes like Ingold did in his career. Chryst said he wants to see Stokke continue improving at the rate he has.

“I think for every player there’s just that natural progression of, ‘OK, I’ve done it, I’m starting to stack some things together, and continuing to be consistent on it.’ I think that certainly there’s a number of ways that he can still work to get better, but I like that track that he’s on,” Chryst said.

Stokke has another year of eligibility to continue his growth, and he said watching UW fullback products like Ingold and the Chargers’ Derek Watt inspires him to continue that legacy.

“It’s really cool to be part of it and to see them succeed,” Stokke said. “That’s what this program and tradition breeds.”

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