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Why Chez Mellusi picked the Badgers and the hope he brings to the running back group
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Why Chez Mellusi picked the Badgers and the hope he brings to the running back group

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Paul Chryst had a winning lottery ticket in his pocket for a time this spring and summer, but he waited to cash it in.

It wasn’t a scratch-off or the Powerball, rather it was a recruiting win in the form of Chez Mellusi, a running back who was in the NCAA transfer portal after two seasons at Clemson. Mellusi had a number of suitors, and University of Wisconsin running backs coach Gary Brown was one of the first to contact the former four-star prospect after he entered the portal.

Badgers head coach Paul Chryst describes why the word purposefulness is what comes to mind when speaking about running back Chez Mellusi

After many conversations, Chryst knew Mellusi was ready to commit to joining UW, but he wouldn’t let him until Mellusi had come to Madison for a visit.

“Coach Chryst wanted to make sure that this was the place for me,” Mellusi said Wednesday after the Badgers’ sixth practice of fall training camp.

“I knew in my heart that I wanted to be here just from a football aspect. He wanted me to get here, see what Wisconsin is like because I hadn’t been here. So it was one of those things where he wanted me to actually be here, get a feel for it. Once I was here, I really liked it a lot.”

Chryst, who often speaks about valuing fit almost above all else in recruiting, had a good feeling that Mellusi would dovetail well into the UW running back room.

The Badgers needed someone with experience to complement a young group featuring a handful of players without college carries to their names. While Mellusi’s resume with the Tigers wasn’t extensive, he played in 21 games as a backup and tallied 427 yards rushing and six touchdowns on 71 carries and five catches for 38 yards and a score. But being a player with the experience and personality that the Badgers wanted to add wasn’t enough in Chryst’s mind.

“I think it was frustrating for him, but we wanted to make sure he got up and visited and was around our guys,” Chryst said. “It’s a two-way street. Like it’s just not what we think about him, it’s what he thinks about us and does he feel comfortable.”

Mellusi visited UW on June 1, the day the NCAA’s ban on in-person recruiting lifted, and Mellusi committed in a few short hours.

Mellusi joined the Badgers’ summer conditioning program soon after committing and quickly was establishing trust with his new teammates. That trust and Mellusi’s ability has been on display early in UW’s training camp.

He’s splitting first-team tailback reps with redshirt freshman Jalen Berger and showing vision behind the line and good bursts of speed once he decides which hole to attack.

“He’s really shown me that he loves to run the ball hard,” senior offensive lineman Josh Seltzner said. “We haven’t been tackling much, but he always finishes through and almost lays the shoulder a little bit, lets linebackers know what’s up. So I really appreciate that out of him.”

UW’s returning stable of offensive linemen, including Seltzner, was a factor in Mellusi’s decision to come to UW. So too was his previous relationship with Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz — the pair connected playing for the East team at the 2019 All-American Bowl.

Carrying on UW’s tradition of running backs also played a role. Mellusi will wear No. 6 instead of 27, his number in high school and at Clemson. Along with wanting a fresh start at his new school, No. 6 once belonged to Corey Clement, who rushed for more than 3,000 yards for the Badgers before starting an NFL career.

“Another great running back had had that already, so why not keep it going?” Mellusi said with a smile.

Mellusi said a few friends questioned why he left Clemson, a national power that has reached the College Football Playoff each of the past six seasons and won two championships in that span. A position coach change and a shift in offensive philosophy made him feel like his best chance to contribute was elsewhere, he said.

But the experiences he had in his career, including playing in last season’s semifinal, are valuable to the Badgers.

“I think he brings a work ethic and a mentality and a passion to get to the mountaintop,” Brown said. “Our guys in our room have really, really enjoyed him being in our room. I hope he continues to do those things he’s doing to help us get there.”

Mellusi has an opportunity to be a top-of-the-depth-chart back at UW, something that eluded him while he worked behind Travis Etienne at Clemson. That chance is motivating him on the field and in meetings, Chryst said.

Patience served Mellusi well in his process of landing with the Badgers. He now wants that time he’s been waiting to pay off.

“I feel great. This team really made me feel at home,” he said. “It was a smooth transition.

“We’ve got a great room. We’ve got a great group of young guys. I’m fairly young, I’m still 19, but I’m kind of a veteran. I feel like it’s my duty to keep going and show these guys what it’s like to be part of something special. I kind of was part of something special, and I want to keep it going.”


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