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Badgers football: Sophomore Michael Deiter is ‘glue’ that keeps Wisconsin’s offensive line together

January 1, 2017 GMT

ARLINGTON, Texas — Michael Deiter wasn’t quite sure what to expect when he enrolled early at the University of Wisconsin in the spring of 2014, but he certainly didn’t think first-team reps were heading his way during his initial practices with the Badgers football team.

With UW’s top two centers, Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen, both out due to injury, Deiter was asked to line up opposite former Badgers defensive linemen Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski.

“I had to really grow up fast,” said Deiter, a product of Genoa High School in Curtice, Ohio. “I didn’t really have time to be a young guy necessarily or ease into the situation. I got thrown in with the best we had to offer at the time. I think when I noticed I was holding my own against them late in spring and then in fall camp, it gave me a little bit of confidence to say, ‘Maybe I have a shot at doing this.’”

Deiter didn’t play that season, but he said the lessons forced upon him during that time were crucial to his development.

He’ll finish up his redshirt sophomore season Monday when UW takes on Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, and he’s already established himself as the veteran leader of the Badgers’ offensive line.

His versatility has helped the Badgers immensely over the past two years. He moved from left guard to center after Voltz tore his ACL at Illinois last season, and he briefly moved back to left guard earlier this year when guards Jon Dietzen and Micah Kapoi were battling injuries.

“He even likes to jump in there every now and then at tackle (at practice),” UW offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said. “There are different things that will be difficult at (guard and center). There’s not guys that can shift gears like that. Techniques are a hair different. The spacing from a defensive lineman is a little bit different, the knowledge base to be able to jump around and do that. He’s helped us this year by making that possible, and guys have stepped in around him. It’s really nice to be able to have that in your back pocket.”

Even before he proved himself as a multi-postion player, though, Deiter’s talent showed early in his career.

During that 2014 season, former UW coach Gary Andersen and his staff nearly pulled Deiter’s redshirt during the Big Ten Conference Championship Game, when the Badgers lost 59-0 to Ohio State.

The staff had discussed the possibility with Deiter and his parents that week when Voltz was battling an ankle injury. When Voltz further injured himself against the Buckeyes, though, the game was already getting away from the Badgers and the coaching staff opted not to go through with their original plan.

“When Dan got hurt, me and (former UW offensive line) coach (T.J.) Woods talked a little bit,” Deiter said. “The possibility was there. It was actually close to happening. … Looking back on it, it’s nice to have that redshirt still. It gives me more time.”

The fact that the staff considered it still gave Deiter confidence that he would eventually be an impact starter for the Badgers. Over the past two seasons, he has started all 26 of UW’s games.

Deiter isn’t the offensive lineman receiving the most headlines this season, though. That’s UW-Stevens Point transfer Ryan Ramczyk, who took the left tackle position by storm in his first season playing Division I football and projects to be a first-round NFL Draft pick in April if he forgoes his final year of eligibility.

Deiter remains one of UW’s best offensive players, though. He’s already started more games than anyone else on the Badgers’ offensive line, makes all the pre-snap calls and is the most vocal of the bunch.

“Michael’s the voice,” Rudolph said. “A line can’t be about one guy or two guys. You’ve got to have five, six, seven guys that you can flat-out count on and they can count on each other. Michael’s been a glue to that. He’s a communicator in the middle. He gets things organized. He fights. It’s not hard to tell how much he cares about this team and about how much he cares about his performance.

“He’s smart and he makes the calls and he works his tail off and he plays as hard as you can imagine. Those are the things that lead.”