It’s mid-July, which means we’re only a few weeks away from Big Ten Media Days and the start of fall camp for the Wisconsin Badgers football team.
The Badgers head into the 2022 season looking to improve on their 9-4 record from a year ago and are looking to return to the Big Ten Championship Game after missing out on a Big Ten West title in 2021.
After a busy off-season full of managerial changes, new hires and transfer arrivals, football is almost back. With that in mind, it’s time to preview each position group before fall camp begins.
Previously occupied positions:
Next, we turn our attention to the full-backs in our ongoing previews.
- Riley Nowakowski (SO) 6-ft-1, 237 lbs
- Jackson Acker (RS FR) 6-foot-1, 232 lbs
- Garrison Solliday (RS FR) 5ft-11, 229lbs
Projected Depth Chart
Starters: Jackson Acker
Substitute: Riley Nowakowski
Third string: Garrison Solliday
Returning career production
6 carries, 34 yards, 1 touchdown
1 tackle special teams
Wisconsin is one of the remaining schools in college football that showcases the position of the fullback on their offense.
While John Chenal was chasing his dreams in the NFL, the Badgers came into spring looking for answers at the position. After 15 spring drills, it seems they found an answer in Jackson Acker.
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The Verona, Wisconsin native saw most replays at full-back this spring and proved a little elusive as a pass catcher with ball in hand. Acker caught action in two games last year as a true freshman and earned replays at both fullback and running back in 2021. A former high school tailback, Acker made the most of his carries a year ago, running for 34 yards and scoring just one touchdown on six tries, all of which came against Rutgers and Northwestern.
I was impressed by Acker’s ability as a blocker in the fall and I think he’s the most dynamic option at full-back and has a lot of untapped potential.
Acker isn’t the only full-back struggling for replays in the fall, however. Walk-ons Riley Nowakowski and Garrison Solliday each attended the Spring Ball and showed promising results. I’ve been particularly impressed with Nowakowski in the drills I’ve watched, and I think he’ll play a bigger role on offense this fall. The Milwaukee product is also a former high school running back, and he’s versatile enough to help out the Badgers as a full back or tight end when needed.
I think that if Acker and Nowakowski enter fall camp they will see the field plentiful this season and form a solid full-back rotation.
Behind them, I think Garrison Solliday is more than capable of helping the team. I think he will be used on special teams this year and he brings a nice depth to the position group. I can’t imagine the Badgers using three full-backs that much, so Solliday’s attacking reps may be fewer in 2021, but I think he could make a contribution later.
Young player to watch
While I’m high on what Nowakowski could bring to the full-back group, Jackson Acker’s advantage is undeniable. A former three-star state recruit, Acker was an early engagement for the Badgers in the 2020 recruit class and came to Wisconsin with the size to play several different positions. Acker is a standout in athletics, his mix of strength and speed made him a great high school running back, but his physical ability also made linebacker and fullback a possibility.
After working with the running backs during fall camp last season, midseason injuries and the surprise transfer of Quan Easterling provided an opportunity for Acker to gain practice and replays as a fullback.
Acker then carried that momentum into spring, where it was a bright spot on offense. His running back background and receiver skills make him an intriguing playmaker for new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram to use on offense. For example, in the last practice session of the spring, he caught a Graham Mertz swing pass from the backfield that would have resulted in a nice win, and I could see the Badgers working to find ways to get the ball into his given hands to get his talent level as a runner.
I still think there will be room for Riley Nowakowski up front as well, but I think Acker has some exciting opportunities if he can continue to develop as an all-down full-back.
Another player to watch at fall camp is Tight End Cam Large. He missed spring through injury but spent the latter part of the 2021 season working with full-backs in training, seeing action as a hybrid tight end and blocking full-back in three games.
It will be fascinating to watch this autumn where he enters the equation as a full-back.
At 6ft 3 and weighing 234 pounds, Large is the size to play either tight end or fullback for the Badgers, and he demonstrated his skills as a blocker at fall camp last season. Provided he’s healthy, Wisconsin could look to bring him onto the field as an additional blocker, with full-back a natural place to use him. The Badgers have a lot of uncertainty in the tight end room at the moment, so overall health of the room will play a role, where Large deserves replays, but he’s a talented player that the staff field has been making an effort for.
Large, a former three-star recruit in the class of 2020, chose Wisconsin over offers from Alabama, Georgia and the state of Ohio, all of which he formally attended the summer before his senior year of high school. If the Badgers are comfortable where they are on the tight end in fall camp, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him on the field as a full-back, and he could push his way into the two’s deep at full-back pretty quickly.
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