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Sometimes there’s a win before there’s even a game. For Isaac Guerendo, that win is coming this week.
The Wisconsin Badgers senior running back, who played only five games total in 2020 and '21, has 17 carries for 94 yards and three touchdowns in three games this season, which has drawn the attention of his coaches and maybe has earned him more time in the offense.
“I’ve appreciated what Isaac has done to get himself here,” UW coach Paul Chryst said this week. “I’ve been really happy for him, and happy for our team. He’s playing with confidence, and sometimes when a guy is coming off an injury, you wonder about the physicality part of it.”
Not anymore. Guerendo approaches the one-year mark since the fluke injury looking and feeling strong.
He worked for that. Guerendo hurt his foot during warmups before the Illinois game last Oct. 9. He heard and felt a pop. And even though his foot looked fine after taking off his cleat and tape, an X-ray revealed the truth: a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot.
“It was definitely tough; up until that point I had previously already been dealing with a whole bunch of injuries,” Guerendo said. “Like both hamstrings.”
But the Lisfranc is serious, too. On top of the foot, near the arch, the joint affects the ability to walk, run, move and pivot.
“I could either choose to just feel bad for myself or grind myself back,” Guerendo said. “And I just chose to grind myself back.”
So for eight months, Guerendo worked on getting healthy, and also took the opportunity to rehab with fellow tailback Chez Mellusi, who was recovering from a torn ACL. It was a chance to build deeper teammate bonds. They also kept each other accountable through the tedium of rehab.
When Gurendo started running, he felt good on solid footing. But it was training camp in August when he felt his best, and that his speed had returned, even under the demands of sprinting and cutting.
“It's been good. I've been feeling better, as best I have for a really long time,” Guerendo said. “Obviously, you know, with that comes recovery and making sure my plan stays consistent. It's kind of like if you take care of your body, it takes care of you.”
“His speed is coming,” Chryst said. “He’s looked good. Certainly a guy that we trust, and you want him – no matter what type of situation it is.”
Guerendo is third on the depth chart. Sophomore running back Braelon Allen (334 yards) and Mellusi (168), a senior, are the leading backs with 85 carries between them. But with three receptions as well, Guerendo could be an asset to the Badgers, who want to switch up their offensive playbook, especially since Guerendo looks like he’s completed his comeback.
"Yeah, I was pretty interested” in the injury, Allen said. “You know, I heard some things about the injury. One of my friends, a high school teammate, had the same one, he was a really fast guy. From what I heard, he wasn't the same when he got back. He just wasn't as fast, so I was interested to see Isaac return, and as soon as I saw him run, I was like, not much has changed. So props to him.”
As Guerendo and his teammates prepare for their Big Ten Conference opener against Ohio State on Saturday, he also can serve in a leadership role, and as a calming presence to the younger guys.
A three-time all-Academic Big Ten honoree, majoring in personal finance, Guerendo always has been good with numbers, taking after his mom, a branch manager of PNC Bank. And the numbers say UW will need to be at full strength at Ohio State.
With two solid kick returns this season, including a 50-yarder against New Mexico State last week, Guerendo will look for any way he can to help this team, and putting the Badgers in better field position would be a good start.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin football tailback Isaac Guerendo aims to help vs. Ohio State