Lucas at Large: Armstrong returns looking to make a leap

FB_120813_Armstrong_Ethan.jpgMedia days can be monotonous for players because of the repetitive nature of the questioning.

Mostly it's a harmless fluff-and- flash (bulb) exercise; one lost hour out of the day -- unless you're Wisconsin linebacker Ethan Armstrong, who was actually looking forward to Sunday's media day at Camp Randall Stadium from the perspective of "I was sure hoping I would see'' another one.

"I don't want to take anything for granted,'' he said.

That's because the last time the Badgers played a home game -- Nov. 26, 2011 against Penn State -- Armstrong was taken off the field in an ambulance after being injured while covering a second-quarter kickoff. The worst-case scenario was that he had dislocated both hips, so there was added precaution. But it wasn't as bad as it initially looked, he said; only a partial dislocation of his right hip.

Only?

"It was probably scarier for my parents than it was for me,'' Armstrong said. "They weren't at the game, so they had to watch it on TV. I'm sure it was a frightening experience. I don't really remember all that I was thinking (during the ambulance ride to the hospital). I was just really disappointed and hoping my teammates would continue to play well and get that victory.''

That was the good news: the Badgers closed out the regular season by crushing Penn State, 45-7, and advancing to the inaugural Big Ten championship game. The bad news was that Armstrong's season was over. Some might have viewed his college football career in the same light. Addressing the number of people who likely counted him out, he said, "There was probably more than I want to know.''

That's why his presence at Sunday's media day was so meaningful. "I love the game, I love this place, I love playing here -- I couldn't ever see myself doing anything else,'' said Armstrong, a redshirt junior from Ottawa, Ill., who's battling to be the No. 3 linebacker on defense alongside Mike Taylor and Chris Borland. In this sense, Armstrong said that he has to prove to himself that "I can do it, that I can come back and be the same player and play at the same level that I was before the injury.''

Armstrong had surgery on one hip in December, and the other hip in January.

"Physically, I'm as healthy as I'm going to get,'' he said.

Before he could continue, he was interrupted and asked, "What does that mean?''

You're as healthy as you're going to get?

"It means I'm feeling good,'' said Armstrong, who missed spring practice while he was recovering from surgery. "I'm full-go, I'm 100 percent. Obviously, there's going to be a little soreness, a little bit of tightness from day to day. But it's about maintaining and staying as healthy as I can.''

Armstrong is 21. Does he ever feel like he's 61 when he gets up in the morning?

"As long as I wake up with the right mindset I'm good to go,'' he said, smiling.

That's a pretty refreshing attitude which he also applies to his walk-on status.

"That's probably been harder on my folks than me,'' he said. "They've given me a great opportunity -- the chance to come here and play -- and they've been amazing to me. They've done nothing but support me since Day One, so it's been harder on them to pay tuition, especially out of state tuition.

"But they haven't said anything about it. They want me to do what I want to do.''

Having endured so many setbacks -- including shoulder and finger surgery -- Armstrong just wants to prove that he can be a steady contributor. "I've tried to stay as positive as I could, but it has been tough, any injury is,'' he said, adding that at least he knows what to expect from rehab; a kind of "been there, done that'' mentality.

"You know the kind of hurdles you're going to have to jump and the trials that you're going to face coming back from it,'' he said.

When he has played, he has been productive.

"But I have a lot to prove; I have to prove that I can be that guy, that starter,'' said Armstrong, noting that he has to prove his worthiness to his coaches and teammates. "Frankly, I have to prove to the whole Wisconsin nation that I'm good enough to play with those guys, good enough to be a scholarship athlete and good enough to earn my way on this team.''

Armstrong is so gung-ho about getting back to work that he's excited by the prospect of two-a-days practice, normally the bane of every player. "That's just because I want to be here so bad,'' Armstrong said. "It's not as much of a grind as everyone says ... (for me) it's definitely making sure that my body can keep up with what my mind and my heart wants it to do.''
ON WISCONSIN