Bielema puts 'faith' in second-year runnning backs coach to serve as lead recruiter
Thomas Hammock's first two seasons as Wisconsin's running backs coach will be hard for Badgers fans to forget.
In his first year, Hammock saw his star protégé, Montee Ball, lead the nation in rushing, be named a Heisman Trophy finalist and tie Barry Sanders' NCAA record for touchdowns scored in a season. That constitutes a pretty good debut.
For an encore, Hammock helped Ball become the NCAA's all-time leader in touchdowns and the Doak Walker Award winner while putting together one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the nation.
Beyond Ball's record-setting season, Hammock also mentored junior James White and freshman Melvin Gordon to outstanding seasons. Each of UW's top three backs rushed for more than 550 yards in 2012, making UW one of just three programs in the country with that distinction. All three also posted multiple 100-yard games on the season.
Ball and White combined for 2,749 rushing yards in 2012, second-best among any running back tandem in the country. White's average of 6.4 yards per carry was the best single-season mark in UW history, and his career average of 6.09 ranks fourth among active FBS players with at least 400 career carries.
In addition, Gordon led the nation with his average of 10.0 yards per carry.
For his part, Ball became just the 17th player in FBS history to top 5,000 yards for a career. He led the nation in rushing in 2011 and ranked second among running backs in 2012, with his two-year total of 3,753 yards the eighth-best total for consecutive seasons in FBS history.
Ball won the Ameche-Dayne Big Ten Running Back of the Year award for the second-consecutive season after becoming the first Big Ten player since at least 1939 to lead the league in scoring in three consecutive seasons.
Wisconsin has scored 86 rushing touchdowns during Hammock's two years in Madison, the third-most of any program in the nation. The Badgers produced the top two rushing performances in the nation in 2012, running for a school-record 564 yards at Indiana and racking up 539 rushing yards against Nebraska in the Big Ten Football Championship Game. UW is the first program to boast two 500-yard rushing games in the same season since Nevada in 2009.
After averaging 235.6 yards per game to rank 11th nationally in rushing in 2011, the Badgers improved their total of 236.4 yards per game in 2012, ranking 13th nationally.
UW's running backs combined for 3,275 yards in 2012, or 92.3 percent of the Badgers' total rushing output (excluding quarterback sacks).
In addition to mentoring the Badgers' running backs, Hammock serves as UW's recruiting coordinator and helped first-year head coach Gary Andersen land a 2013 signing class that ranked 33rd nationally.
Hammock returned to UW in 2011 after spending the previous four seasons at Minnesota. He was a graduate assistant with the Badgers in 2003 and 2004.
Ball, who rushed for 996 yards as a sophomore, took the nation by storm as a junior -- his first season under Hammock. He led the country with 1,923 rushing yards, the 22nd-best total in NCAA history and third-best in school annals. Ball was almost unstoppable near the end zone, scoring 39 TDs to tie Sanders' NCAA record and lead the country (12 more than the next player). He scored at least two touchdowns in all 13 of the Badgers' regular-season games, setting an NCAA record for consecutive multiple-TD games.
Ball was duly rewarded for his excellence, becoming UW's first Heisman Trophy finalist since 1999, earning the Big Ten's Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year Award and being named a consensus first-team All-American. A Doak Walker Award finalist, Ball also earned the Chicago Tribune's Silver Football Award, given to the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player, and the Archie Griffin Award, presented by the Touchdown Club of Columbus to college football's Most Valuable Player.
In addition to Ball, White ran for more than 700 yards. In total, UW's running backs had 2,927 yards on the ground (5.8 yards per carry) and scored 41 rushing TDs. Badger running backs were also threats through the air as they combined to catch 61 passes for 716 yards and six TDs.
As a team, Wisconsin led the Big Ten and ranked 11th in the country in rushing offense, averaging 235.6 yards per game on the ground. The Badgers' 48 rushing touchdowns tied the single-season conference record. UW finished the season ranked sixth in the country in scoring offense (44.1 points per game) and 14th in total offense (469.9 yards per game), leading the Big Ten in both categories.
Ball was the second player in Hammock's seven years as a full-time running backs coach to lead the nation in rushing under his tutlege. In 2005-06, Hammock coached Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe. Wolfe's 1,928 rushing yards and 148.3 yards per game were both best in the country in 2006. He also finished as the NCAA career leader in yards per carry (6.40 - minimum 780 rushes) and is fourth all-time in career rushing yards per game (156.5). One of just four players in college football history to run for at least 1,500 yards in three different seasons, Wolfe was drafted in the third round by the Chicago Bears.
Before re-joining the Badgers' staff, Hammock spent four seasons (2007-10) at Minnesota. Following three seasons as the running backs coach, Hammock was the Gophers' co-offensive coordinator in 2010. Under Hammock, the UM offense moved up 26 places in the national ranking for rushing offense and 34 in total offense over the previous season. Following a mid-season coaching transition, Hammock took over play-calling duties for the final five games. During those five games, he led an offense that helped the team secure wins in its final two games, including its first rivalry win in four years, defeating Iowa for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.
Hammock spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin from 2003-04, helping the Badgers make Music City (2003) and Outback (2004) bowl appearances.
As a player, Hammock ranks ninth on the Northern Illinois all-time rushing list with 2,432 career yards. He logged 1,083 yards as a sophomore in 2000, ranking 12th in the NCAA (120.3 ypg.), and posted 1,095 yards as a junior.
Unfortunately, Hammock's senior season was cut short due to a potentially life-threatening heart condition in 2002. Adversity propelled his coaching career as he turned his attention towards becoming a student coach and helped Michael Turner post a MAC single-season rushing record of 1,915 yards in 2002.
Hammock earned his bachelor's degree from Northern Illinois in 2002 and a master's from Wisconsin in 2004. He and his wife, Cheynnitha, have a daughter, Tierra.
The Hammock File Hometown: Jersey City, N.J. College: Northern Illinois, 2002 Wife: Cheynnitha Children: daughter, Tierra
Bowl Games Coached 2003 Music City Bowl 2004 Outback Bowl 2006 Poinsettia 2008 Insight 2009 Insight 2011 Big Ten Football Championship Game 2012 Rose Bowl 2012 Big Ten Football Championship Game 2013 Rose Bowl
Playing Experience 1999-2002: Northern Illinois (running back)