Fumagalli battles adversity to lead Badgers

Troy Fumagalli led UW with 105 receiving yards in its win over Utah State. 

Image By: Katie Scheidt

To the casual Wisconsin fan, after losing Alex Erickson to the NFL, there really wasn’t any receiving threat left on the Badgers. Against LSU, however, Troy Fumagalli showed them that they were dead wrong.

The 6-foot-6 redshirt junior did what few UW tight ends have done before: Gain 100 receiving yards in a game. The last to do that was Lance Kendricks back in 2010. Kendricks now plays for the Los Angeles Rams, so Fumagalli’s huge game positions him firmly in the elite NFL tight end machine that the Wisconsin football program has turned into.

“There’s a lot of names…you look at Lance, you look at [Owen Daniels], you look at [Travis Beckum], guys who are unreal,” Fumagalli said.

Fumagalli’s success against LSU came because of two key attributes in his game: his size and his hands. His size is immediately noticeable, so when he barrels over a defensive back, it doesn’t really come as a shock.

“I’m not as fast as the other guys, so I’ve gotta use my size to make guys miss, instead of moving around them,” Fumagalli said.

However, his good hands could be a bit of a surprise once you know a bit of info about the Aurora, Ill. native.

He was born with Amniotic Banding Syndrome, which is a disease that affects circulation. This led to doctors amputating the pointer finger on his left hand a day after he was born, and perform other surgeries on his hands that leave them scarred to the day.

The receiver on Wisconsin with the best hands has one less finger than the rest.

“I’ve had it since birth, so it really doesn’t bother me,” Fumagalli said. “I pride myself in having good hands.”

Teammates and coaches don’t worry about his lack of a finger, because Fumagalli himself doesn’t worry about it. He said he hasn’t ever had a coach second-guess his skills because of his amputated finger, and he prefers to let his play on the field speak for itself.

The lost finger isn’t the only adversity Fumagalli has overcome on his road to becoming the Badgers’ top dog. When he came to Madison he was a walk-on, like many great former Badgers from J.J. Watt to Joel Stave to Alex Erickson.

“You put my name in the conversation with those guys, guys that developed that W, made it what it is today, that’s special,” Fumagalli said. “It doesn’t come easy, they understand the hard work it takes to get here.”

Fumagalli isn’t disparaging his teammates that were heavily recruited and started off with a scholarship; he’s just proud of his journey. The summer after his redshirt freshman season, then-coach Gary Andersen gave him the scholarship that he earned, and the first person Fumagalli called was his dad.

“I think it was really cool talking to my dad about it. Understanding that he doesn’t have to pay for my school anymore, proving to him that I deserve to be here, that was really cool,” Fumagalli said.

Regardless of stats, Fumagalli is an integral part of the offense, with head coach Paul Chryst saying, “If the team is going to go, [Fumagalli’s] got to go.” While his first-game success may come as a surprise to the fan base, to the people on the inside, it was anything but.

“If anybody’s gonna be good they have to work hard, and he puts in the time and the energy in the offseason. I really wasn’t surprised he had a big game. I expected it to be honest,” senior tight end Eric Steffes said.

Fumagalli knows that any success could lead to teams doubling teaming him, or playing him more physically at the line of scrimmage, but he isn’t afraid of facing a little bit more adversity.

“He knows when a situation gets tough that it’s not gonna be easy on him, and he kinda wants that situation. He wants to be what this place stands for: tough, smart, dependable,” tight end coach Mickey Turner said.

On the stat sheet, Fumagalli took a step back against Akron, only catching two passes for 16 yards, but it was at the expense of huge games by a pair of teammates. Senior receiver Rob Wheelwright had 99 yards and junior Jazz Peavy had 100 with a pair of touchdowns. The trio of offensive stars doesn’t look at the success by the others as a bad game for them, but instead as motivation.

“We keep pushing each other to see who gets the most yards each game. Fum showed us up last week, we had to show Fumagalli that he’s not the only one who can catch,” Wheelwright said after Wisconsin’s 54-10 win against Akron last Saturday.

As the weeks go on, which receiver is the main target will fluctuate, but with his performance against the LSU Tigers, Fumagalli has proven that he is one of the leaders of the pack, despite a lifetime’s worth of adversity.

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