July 20, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin defensive tackle Jordan Kohout understood that he would not be able to play the game forever. But he had no inkling that his college football career would end the way that it has.
Kohout, a redshirt junior from Waupun, has applied for a medical scholarship after it was diagnosed that he had suffered two “small strokes’’ linked to migraine headaches that he experienced last spring.
“You don’t really think of 21-year-old athletes having strokes,’’ Kohout said. “But I’m glad that we caught it early and I can still do a lot of the things that I love to do.
“As much as I love football, life has a lot of other things to offer as well.’’
Kohout, who has been a productive member of the defensive tackle rotation for back-to-back Rose Bowl teams, including seven starts in 2010, will serve as a student assistant coach this season.
“It’s going to be very beneficial to me because football isn’t completely out of the picture,’’ he said, “and I’ll still be able to be around the environment here and the people I really care about.’’
While deliberating over his future, Kohout has found out just how much people care about him, too. That dates back to mid-April when he began dealing with some intense headaches.
Prior to that, he really hadn’t had much of a history with migraines, he noted.
“I can remember having one or two migraines in high school over a two or three year span,’’ he said. “I had one my sophomore year here; none last season. They’ve been few and far between.’’
The Badgers opened spring practice on March 22 and Kohout said “the first week went really well for me. I was improving quite a bit’’ and there were no physical setbacks, no headaches.
But that all changed after the players returned from their spring break and resumed practicing. “Then I started having these streaks of light followed by pain,’’ Kohout said.
As a precaution, he was immediately pulled out of practice.
“They’re very cautious here,’’ he added. “Our medical staff wouldn’t put us at any risk.’’
When he was allowed to practice again, the headaches came back.
“It starts with a light flash, light streaks; migraine sufferers call it an aura,’’ Kohout explained. “Tunnel vision would kind of form and it was followed by pretty intense pain; sometimes vertigo, too.
“I’d have them every time I had contact in practice … I woke up one day with streaks of light and I had them the whole day. It was pretty awful.’’
Dr. John Wilson, the football team’s physician, ordered an MRI.
“He wasn’t expecting to really find anything too much,’’ Kohout said. “But as it turns out, I had two small strokes due to the migraines and that was quite a shock to all of us.
“The diagnosis was that the migraines were constricting the blood vessels in my brain, which led to the strokes. Apparently it’s a very rare thing to happen but it’s not unheard of from what I’ve learned.
“To hear it was a stroke was also pretty surprising because I didn’t feel like I was having one. I wasn’t dealing with anything that was too abnormal I thought. That’s the thing; I didn’t feel different.
“They were just headaches – headaches with the aura of light and sometimes the dizziness that goes along with migraines and the pain. Other than that, mentally, I was doing fine in school.’’
Kohout saw Dr. Justin Sattin, an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at the UW School of Medicine. He also received a second opinion from Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“The doctors and I came to the conclusion that maybe it’s not really worth putting my life at risk,’’ Kohout said. “They were kind of reluctant to say, ‘You’re done’ right away.
“I was kind of reluctant, too. At first, I thought maybe there was something we could do about it. I talked it over with my parents and my girlfriend and then I talked it over with myself.’’
Processing all the information, he deduced that it was best to give up football.
“It was a very nuanced approach, which I appreciated,’’ Kohout said of the decision-making process.
“When I first found out that I had the strokes, I really thought that I could still come back.
“I was still in denial, I think. Honestly, I might have been in shock for a few days. It really didn’t hit me and then when it did, it was like, ‘Holy crap, this is a big deal.’
“The process took time to get a first and second opinion and then to digest it all. I just signed the papers a few days ago (to apply) for the medical scholarship. It wasn’t like I had the MRI and, boom, I signed.
“The doctors let me take it all in and made sure I knew what was going on.’’
Kohout kept coming back to the same question, “Is it really worth it anymore?’’
Besides talking over things with his family and girlfriend, he shared what he was thinking with UW head coach Bret Bielema and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge.
“When I first approached coach Partridge before I got the second opinion,’’ he said, “I told him that I didn’t know what was going to happen and I teared up. I was pretty upset at the time.’’
It was no different with Bielema.
“Actually,’’ Kohout said, “talking to the coaches was a very therapeutic thing knowing that they cared and knowing they were going to support my decision no matter what.
“That this football program does care a lot about its players was a big comfort.’’
Kohout lives with UW offensive lineman Zac Matthais and two good high school friends from Waupun. He has kept all of his teammates on the defensive line in the loop from the beginning.
“I think they were as shocked as I was but they’ve been very supportive,’’ Kohout said. “I haven’t talked to the whole team. I will probably address the team during fall training camp.’’
Kohout has not experienced migraines since the end of spring ball. “I’ve suffered from cluster headaches at times,’’ he said, “but they’re not to the degree of the migraines I had in the spring.’’
Cognizant that there has been an heightened awareness to head injuries in football at all levels, Kohout said, “I’d have a migraine and we’d kind of wonder if it was concussion-related.’’
It’s pretty difficult to ignore head contact on the line of scrimmage, he acknowledged.
“Playing D-tackle, you’re hitting a big dude every single play,’’ Kohout said. “You’re getting your hands on somebody and you’re bringing your head in there a lot of times.
“It was always something I did to gain extra pop; maybe I shouldn’t have, but that’s just the way I’ve always done it. Extend your hands out and pop with your head; every single play usually.’’
At his heaviest, Kohout weighed 295 pounds. He has already dropped down to 260.
“I’m still able to work out and exercise,’’ he said, adding that he would like to weigh around 240. “I’m still doing pretty intense workouts – going hard with minimal rest and feeling great.
The fact that he can stay physically active should make his transition from player to student assistant a little easier, though he expects to suffer from a football withdrawal when camp opens up.
“I’ve reconciled everything,’’ Kohout said. “A big part of it is knowing that I’ll be around the program – and because of my love of exercising – I’ll still have weight training and my fitness.’’
Kohout, a sociology major, was planning on getting his masters in educational leadership. “I never pictured coaching being an option,’’ he said. “But we’ll see what happens.’’
That’s pretty much how Bielema and Partridge presented the opportunity to him. “They both told me that they’d like me to be around,’’ Kohout said, “and I definitely want to be around.’’
Kohout sounded excited about getting a chance to mentor younger players; especially since he prided himself on properly executing the techniques, which is now something he can help teach.
“That’s what’s really great about this place,’’ he said. “The coaches and the players take the attitude of nurturing and helping out the younger guys a lot more than maybe other places do.’’
Bielema is convinced that Kohout will do a good job in his new role as a student coach.
“Like I shared with him the other day when I sat down with him, there were certain athletic skills that made him a good player,’’ Bielema said. “But he was also very good because of the way he learns.
“He’s very coachable and he always understood the big picture when Charlie (Partridge) was talking to him. A lot of those types of guys become good coaches.’’
Coming out of the spring, Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer were the No. 1 defensive tackles. Hemer and Patrick Butrym, who has since graduated, started all 14 games last season for the Badgers.
Kohout, a 2009 redshirt, appeared in 26 games and accounted for 44 tackles the last two years. Warren Herring, a converted defensive end, will likely get the first crack at replacing him in the rotation.
“He’s an inside guy who can bring a little bit of a different flavor in there,’’ Bielema said. “This might also open the door for one of the younger players, who could step into a role sooner than later.’’
There are no plans to return Kyle Costigan to the defensive line, Bielema also said. Costigan was switched to offensive guard in the spring and Bielema has been pleased with his development.
Bielema admitted that it was tough getting the news on Kohout, who wore No. 91, the same number that Bielema sported as an Iowa defensive lineman. He loved Kohout’s commitment to being a Badger.
“He had two great years here,’’ Bielema said. “And now we’ll take the bump in the road and move forward. He’s handling it very well.’’
To this end, Kohout has been grateful for all the support that he has received. At the start of the summer, he felt a certain detachment from the team, which was completely understandable.
“But I can’t feel sorry for myself,’’ he stressed. “I’m dealing with it.’’