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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Chez Mellusi’s place among Wisconsin football’s running back greats

From Naples to Clemson and eventually Madison, Chez Mellusi is an exemplary leader for the Badgers, no matter the outcome on the field.

Before his arrival to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2021, Mellusi played high school football at Naples High School in Naples, Florida under coach Bill Kramer. He took his talents to Clemson University for two years before eventually transferring to the Badgers.

Mellusi finished his high school career with 4,409 all-purpose yards — 3,905 of those being rushing yards — and 55 total touchdowns with 50 rushing. He averaged 9.3 yards per carry with 421 total carries over 32 games. This garnered the attention of many colleges, which landed him 17 offers and a unanimous four-star rating.

Mellusi accepted an offer to play for Clemson University. In his two-year stint at Clemson, Mellusi totaled 427 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 71 carries alongside five catches for 38 yards and a receiving touchdown over 21 games for the Tigers.

Mellusi entered the transfer portal in April 2021 and eventually ended up transferring to Wisconsin prior to the 2021 season. 

Playing for the Badgers allowed Mellusi to have a more active role on the field — in his first season with the Badgers, he had 173 carries, which was over 100 additional carries compared to what he had in the entirety of his Clemson career.

These additional carries helped Mellusi accumulate 815 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns for the Badgers in the 2021 season, recording 4.7 yards per carry. Unfortunately, Mellusi’s season came to an abrupt end due to a leg injury in a win against Rutgers on Nov. 6, 2021.

Mellusi developed a tandem duo with fellow Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen in his second season with the Badgers. Despite them already playing with each other in the 2021 season, their 2022 season saw them truly work hand-in-hand with each other.

Even though Mellusi’s 2022 stats doesn’t show the same type of impact compared to previous Badger running backs like Jonathon Taylor, Melvin Gordon and James White, Mellusi’s on-field presence, aura and leadership have landed him in those same conversations in which the legendary Wisconsin backs are regarded.

In the Badgers’ 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl win, Mellusi had 77 yards on 16 carries for an average of approximately 4.8 yards per carry. He scored Wisconsin’s first touchdown in the game. His score opened up the field for the Badgers offense and allowed them to score two straight touchdowns — one of them coming from his fellow partner-in-crime, Braelon Allen. Mellusi’s leading touchdown helped the Badgers get their third straight bowl win and their eighth bowl win in their last ten bowl appearances.

Coming into the 2023 season, Mellusi had much to look forward to with new head coach Luke Fickell, who allowed Mellusi’s offensive prowess to take hold. 

In the first four games of the season, Mellusi averaged six yards per carry — the highest carry average in his Badger football career. 

His most notable game of the season came in a game against Buffalo on Sept. 2, where he scored two touchdowns in a 38-17 victory at home. Mellusi ran for a career-high 89-yard touchdown. That propelled his running back duo Allen to score two touchdowns shortly after — one in the same quarter and one in the quarter after.

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In the 2023 season so far, Mellusi has a total of 51 carries and 307 rushing yards with a six-yard average per carry and five touchdowns. However, in an unfortunate turn of events, Mellusi suffered a fractured fibula after Purdue’s Kydran Jenkins came down on his left leg following a tackle on Sept. 22.

The Wisconsin bench cleared while Mellusi got carted off the field. After Allen scored a touchdown later in the game, he made a heart with his hands and threw up his pointer finger to resemble Mellusi’s number after the injury.

Mellusi will most likely be out for the remainder of the 2023 season with the possibility of coming back for his sixth and final season. This injury will impact the Badgers offense, a unit now without one of their main running backs and a leader who is possibly their most experienced player.

Mellusi may not have the highest stats or the most flashy plays out on the field, but he does exude the most influence on the field by rallying his teammates and leading his team with his early game runs and touchdowns. This is what greatness on the football field truly is.

If Mellusi does return for his sixth and final season, expect him to have some of the best stats he has had in his college career and make up for the missed opportunities to show off his offensive prowess.

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