Not in Kansas anymore: Loudermilk's unique journey to UW starting to pay off

The injury to Chikwe Obasih has opened the door, allowing Isaiahh Loudermilk to receive more snaps.

Image By: Jon Yoon

Isaiahh Loudermilk never expected to be here.

Not when he was a tall second grader in Chris Haag’s physical education class.

Not when he was cutting his teeth playing football at the junior high level.

And not even when he starred for West Elk High School when his massive frame and ability started to bring attention to tiny Howard, Kan.

No, playing Big Ten football and earning a sack in front of thousands of adulating fans, as he did this past Saturday versus Northwestern, was never part of Loudermilk’s agenda.

But that is his reality now.

“I wasn’t really planning, when I first started playing football, to get offers or anything like that,” Loudermilk said. “I was just really playing to play.”

It’s not that Loudermilk’s approach to the game changed drastically throughout his prolific high school career. Sure, he hit the weight room, piling on between 40 to 45 pounds from his junior to senior year, according to Haag, West Elk's high school coach.

Jon Yoon | The Daily Cardinal

But really, as Haag would tell you, Loudermilk — a humble, gentle giant from a town of just 700 people — never changed.

It was just his audience that would transform, with an unassuming Hudl profile ultimately resulting in 13 FBS offers for the defensive lineman.

“For about a month straight, there was a Division 1 coach walking in and out of the door each day,” Haag said. “Sometimes two or three each day. It was pretty surreal to go through that with him.”

In his first taste of action as a redshirt freshman, Loudermilk has looked impressive thus far, providing pressure in limited action and filling in for the injured senior defensive end Chikwe Obasih.

But Loudermilk’s path to this point looked a bit murky just a couple of years ago.

Not only was Loudermilk playing in an extremely small town with limited exposure, he was actually playing a different version of football altogether.

With approximately 20 players carried on its roster, West Elk plays eight-man football, a more spread out iteration of the game absent of the college level’s many intricacies.

“We like the way that he’s picked up the defense and can communicate on the field,” Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said of his transition thus far. “The rest is kinda up to him.”

But while Loudermilk’s small-town roots had its downsides —he wasn’t even invited to play at Rivals camps — there were also some advantages to his West Elk football education.

The small amount of players on West Elk’s team meant players got snaps on both sides of the ball. Loudermilk’s supreme talent meant he was utilized in tons of different positions.The Kansas native played offensive line, linebacker, tight end and even running back in his high school days, an experience that he credits his agility and quickness to.

“Basically the only thing he didn’t do was probably throw a pass,” Haag said.

And perhaps even more importantly, Loudermilk’s Kansas roots may have just been the reason he ended up in Madison.

Haag says he reached out to Big Ten schools during Loudermilk’s senior year, not even sure if the conference’s coaches were aware of the freakish player.

Just days later, however, the defensive lineman was meeting with Badgers’ wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, who had happened to be just 80 miles away in Wichita visiting his parents.

The next week, Wisconsin defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield visited to officially give Loudermilk an offer.

The Howard native was on his way to being a Badger, and his Kansas upbringing — for all of its idiosyncrasies — played a significant role in that development.

“I’m glad I got to be able to do that for me and for my town,” Loudermilk said of committing to Wisconsin. “It was pretty big for them.”

Amid all the hopes and expectations for Loudermilk and his pro-level frame, he’s just now beginning to contribute to the Badgers after a redshirt season full of adjustment and learning.

But while Loudermilk continues improving for Paul Chryst’s team, the effects of his play are being felt back home too; his success serving as a source of inspiration for the Howard community, and representing the manifestation of of luck, skill and a once-in-a-lifetime physique.

“I don’t know if everybody realizes the impact, what he has done to our school, for our community, our football program in general,” Haag said. “There’s a lot more Wisconsin Badgers in Howard, Kansas than there were two years ago.”

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